Venus Williams has long been the stoic of the two sisters, the one containing her emotions, maintaining her cool.
And then came a news conference on Wimbledon on July 3rd afternoon, that was as striking as it was revealing of an anguish she has brought with her to Wimbledon. the grass-court surface most tailored to her game and special in her heart.
The questions about a fatal car accident in early June for which Williams has been blamed and sued were posed gently but persistently. When she finally surrendered, asked if there was anything she wished to add to a statement of sorrow she had recently released, she described these past few weeks as devastating before being just unable to punctuate her grief.
“There are really no words to describe, like, how devastating and — yeah, I’m completely speechless,” she said. “It’s just — yeah, I mean, I’m just.…” Her lips trembled. Her eyes flashed. She averted her eyes, raised a hand to her chin and began to sob. “Maybe I should go,” she said softly to the interview room moderator. “Yes,” he said sympathetically before leading her out.
A composed Williams would return minutes later to field a few questions about her first-round match, a 7-6 (7), 6-4 victory over Elise Mertens, a promising 21-year-old from Belgium, whom Williams had defeated in straight sets last month in the third round of the French Open.
Shock descended on Williams’s life soon after the French Open. The car accident occurred June 9th in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, taking the life of Jerome Barson, 78, a retired schoolteacher. He died on June 22nd from injuries sustained when Williams entered an intersection in her 2010 Toyota Sequoia sport-utility vehicle, was obstructed by traffic and run into by Barson’s wife, Linda, who was at the wheel of their 2016 Hyundai Accent. A lawyer for Williams has said the light was green when she proceeded through it, but witnesses told the police she had run a red light.
A daughter of Jerome Barson filed a wrongful-death suit in Palm Beach County circuit court, citing unspecified damages. The news became public last week, on the eve of Williams’s 20th Wimbledon appearance.
She tried to evade each question about the accident to tennis and this tournament, where she is a five-time champion and carries the aura of stately, unflappable royalty.
Interviews a very private Venus on any delicate subject could be a study in her determination bordering on stubbornness, in contrast with her sister. She used to be sprinkled with questions about her emotionally chatty and occasionally tactless father, Richard, to no avail. She has seldom wanted to discuss her autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, and the effects it might have had on her tennis. She has been an advocate for women’s tennis, particularly on the issue of equal prize money, but is careful about when and where to take up the fight.
This, until she was asked Monday about how, in what has been a competitively resurgent season, she was dealing with an unexpected challenge, her action that had led to a tragedy, when she wanted only to be thriving on a Serena-less Wimbledon that any number of players, herself included, could conceivably win. But she is a public person, and the crash is no private affair.
Then came the moment when we better understood what Venus Williams is waking up to each morning, likely contending with her conscience, coping with a crash that cost a man’s life. The stoic finally capitulated.
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