Greg Cote

It ended in defeat, but Venus Williams’ Wimbledon run was an inspiration to behold

Spain's Garbine Muguruza, left, holds the winners trophy after defeating Venus Williams of the United States, right, in the Women's Singles final match on day twelve at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London Saturday, July 15, 2017.
Spain's Garbine Muguruza, left, holds the winners trophy after defeating Venus Williams of the United States, right, in the Women's Singles final match on day twelve at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London Saturday, July 15, 2017. AP

To the Wimbledon crowd, newly minted champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain said Saturday of Venus Williams: “I grew up watching her play.”

The Londoners filling the tennis stadium laughed.

The winner looked sheepishly toward Venus.

“Sorry,” she said.

No apologies needed.

Muguruza, 23, was winning her second major and biggest of her young career. At match point she fell to her knees and wept, later calling that moment “a bomb of emotions.” But Venus’ run at the All-England Club this fortnight was as remarkable. Maybe more so? At 37, she was the oldest women to reach a major final since Martina Navratilova in 1994. She was two sets from bringing home to Palm Beach Gardens her eighth career major but first since 2008.

“A lot of beautiful moments,” Venus said of her Wimbledon run, ever gracious.

The women’s Wimbledon trophy happens to be called the Venus Rosewater Dish.

The star named Venus would have been the one lifting it Saturday if sentiment steered the result.

The match seemed in her control early. The crucial first set was in Venus’ hands. On her racket. She was up 5-4 and 40-15, with two break points for the set. But Muguruza would rally to win 7-5, forcing Venus to then win a three-set match against an opponent 14 years younger. The younger woman instead took the second set 6-0. Rarely does a match turn on such a clear pivot. Once Venus failed to close out that first set, Muguruza would win eight consecutive games to close out the match.

Venus and Roger Federer gave this Wimbledon a vintage finals weekend. On Sunday, Federer, who turns 36 on Aug, 8, goes for what would be a men’s record eighth Wimbledon win and 19th major overall against Croatian Marin Cilic.

For Venus, playing in her record 75th Grand Slam tournament, this Wimbledon came at an especially emotional time. She cried earlier in the tournament when asked about a fatal auto accident she had been involved on June 9 — one for which police first said she was responsible before then saying she wasn’t. Thoughts also are with kid sister Serena, 15 months younger, who is out pregnant.

Asked after the match what she would say to Serena, Venus said: “I miss you. I tried my best to do the same things you do, but I think there’ll be other opportunities. I do.”

The longevity as much as the accomplishments of the Williams sisters has been a phenomenon. In a sports where late 20s can seem old, Venus at 37 and Serena at 35 are still going strong.

Perspective: Muguruza was a 3-year-old toddling around Caracas, Venezuela, (before her family moved to Spain) in 1997 when Venus first introduced herself to Miami in her professional debut on Key Biscayne.

The fascination in life is how you never know, right?

That person you were just introduced to at a party might be someone you never see again or become the enduring love of your life.

It is the same in sports. There is a serendipity to it, everything in the hands of fate.

In the 1983 NFL Draft, in the Dolphins war room, they were trying hard to convince Don Shula he should take a defensive player in the first round. But he just had this feeling about that quarterback from Pittsburgh, Dan Marino.

The Heat had the fifth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, after the stars of that draft, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, already were gone. Oh, but that kid with the misspelled first name, Dwyane Wade — he turned out to be pretty good.

In 2007 the Marlins selected some guy named Mike Stanton in the second round of the MLB Amateur Draft, 76th overall. Who? Miami, and opposing pitchers, would come to know him as Giancarlo.

So 20 years ago on the tennis courts of Key Biscayne we were introduced to a teenage girl named Venus Williams. A year later came the Miami pro debut of an even-younger girl named Serena, whose multi-colored plastic hair beads clattered as she played. They had unusual first names, these African-American sisters who lived 90 minutes north in Palm Beach. We knew little else of them. Not then.

Maybe, against odds, one of them might actually make it on the women’s tennis tour, who knows?

Or, maybe both of them would become two of the greatest players ever, pushing each other higher and higher in historically enduring careers.

Serena has won eight Miami titles and Venus three. Serena has won an Open-record 23 major championships and Venus seven. They are way beyond when most players in this sport retire and are not done yet.

“I was never the one who was supposed to be a good player,” Serena said in a 2012 documentary about them.

“I used to always win in the early days,” Venus said, smiling.

“She’s the only reason the Williams sisters exist,” Serena said.

Individually, they are remarkable. Together, and no less so because Venus fell short Saturday, what we watched bloom 20 years ago on Key Biscayne became the most accomplished siblings in the history of sports.