THE END OF AN ERA

In 1994 I came to Venus via Venus Ebony Starr Williams. A tall, long legged, African-American tennis player from Compton, California.

Venus and her little sister Serena were trained by their parents Richard and Oracene Williams in the public parks of Compton, California to play the elitist sport of tennis.

They came and they took names with their athletic, powerful, and take no prisoners form of tennis.

In July 2010, after winning Wimbledon in 2010, Serena Williams sustained an injury to her right foot. She would go on to withdraw from the USO Series that year, the US Open and the Australian Open of 2011 as a result of that cut on her foot. She has required 2 surgeries so far and the last thing that this blogger heard was that she had sustained an infection in her right toe which could be career threatening.

During all this drama, her big sister Venus played her last match at the USO, losing in the semis to the eventual winner, Kim Clijsters, in a hard fought semi-final match. That would be Venus’ last match for the 2010 tennis season.

During her second round match at the Australian Open, Venus was moving forward to hit her usual high backhand volley and injured her psoas muscle. Venus would go on to receive treatment and come back and win the next 2 sets and move on to the third round.

Today, for the first time in 257 career singles matches at the Australian Open, Venus Williams had to retire against Andrea Petkovic.

Today, 21 January 2011 is for me the beginning of an end of era. It is not only that both women are the women who brought me to tennis, it will also signal my first sign of withdrawal from the sport of tennis.

Gone are the days when sportsmanship and professional courtesy was the hallmark of tennis fans worldwide. Today, an injured opponent was booed by the Australian Open crowd. This is not the first time that this has happened. It happened at Wimbledon in 2010, when due to a mix up by Wimbledon organisers, there was no escort sent to Venus Williams. She then decided to leave by herself and make her way to the court for her match against Jamila Groth. Upon her arrival at the court, she was booed throughout the match.

In 2003, after Serena Williams came back from 5-1 down against Kim Clijsters, a player who had been adopted by the Australian crowd because of her relationship at the time with Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, she was booed for showing heart and grit and showing us what a fighter she is by being booed by the Australian Open crowd.

Tennis fans the world over are free to voice their feelings about players that they like or dislike, but ever since these 2 women made their debut on the women’s tour, their games, attitudes, personalities, playing style, commitment to the game, and everything else has been fodder for tennis fans, commentators, so-called experts, bloggers and even the players themselves.

I don’t think I have ever read anywhere where either Venus or Serena have proclaimed a player to be dead, or old or no longer relevant, but I have sat and listened to commentators who should know better proclaim these 2 women dead and buried for most of their long and fruitful careers.

With today’s exit of Venus Williams from the Australian via retirement, will mark the first time in a long while that no American woman has been in the second week of a major, and indeed the Australian Open.

Fans of tennis, especially those who live in the States should ensure that both Williams Sisters play for a very long time to come, because without the Williams Sisters in tournaments, coverage of tennis, and in particular women’s tennis will die a natural death.

As much as some will tell you that the Ivanovics and Sharapovas and Petkovics of the tennis world are popular amongst fans, at the end of the day American advertisers and television networks cater to an American audience and the best way to do this is to showcase American players.

Even though I am not an American, most of my coverage of tennis is derived from American television. When the Sisters go, as I believe they will be doing very soon, then so will television coverage.

During this year’s tennis season most of the tournaments that were once divided into men’s and women’s have been consolidated. It will be instructive to see who gets coverage when both men and women play. Already, at tournaments like Madrid, Indian Wells and the Sony Ericsson Open, we see more of the men than we do the women. With the absence of Venus and Serena, all we will be getting is perhaps highlight reels or if you are still a fan of the game, having to try and source livestreams from the internet.

I am hoping that this is not the case, but from where I am sitting how can it not be?