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Venus Williams’ Wimbledon legacy is one of tennis’ greatest stories

Over two decades, the 43-year-old has effected change on and off the court at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

As Venus Williams settled into her pre-Wimbledon press conference on Saturday, her pink streaks of braids flowing from her white tennis cap, she appeared content. And why not?

Wimbledon is the tournament Williams, as a kid, dreamed about winning.

Wimbledon is the major that Williams has won the most.

“There’s nothing like the green grass of Wimbledon,” Williams said. “Great times.”

Twenty-six years ago, Williams entered Wimbledon as a 17-year-old phenom. In a 1997 tournament that was delayed by constant rainfall, she lost her first-round match in straight sets.

This week, Williams enters Wimbledon as a wild card entry, a 43-year-old vet who has battled injuries these past two years that has limited her participation.

“A nightmare,” Williams said. “And a terribly difficult rehab. I haven’t played a lot of matches these past two years, and not by choice. I wanted to be here, and I couldn’t.”

Williams will play on center court on Monday in an opening-round match against Elina Svitolina.

How many more Wimbledon’s does Williams have in her? That really wasn’t clear following her pre-tournament presser, where she expressed appreciation for the tour’s health benefits.

“I need those,” she said, breaking out in a wide smile. “Figure that I might as well keep going.”

For how long? 

“If I knew,” Williams said, laughing. “I wouldn’t tell you.”

Whether she returns to Wimbledon or not past this year, here’s a look at the five tournaments she’s won at All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Venus Williams with the Wimbledon trophy after beating Lindsay Davenport during the Wimbledon women’s singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 8, 2000, in London.

Clive Brunskill/ALLSPORT


Just before boarding a plane to Europe in the summer of 2000 — a journey that would include majors in Paris and London — Venus Williams stopped at Florida mall and made a purchase for an important event.

The 2000 Wimbledon Champions ball.

A bold move for a 20-year-old who, while never having won a major, had been knocking on the door with an impressive tennis resume in her 11 prior appearances in slams: one final, two semifinals and five quarterfinals.

At the 2000 Wimbledon tournament, Williams had an extra incentive to win the tournament she always coveted: her little sister, Serena Williams, had won her first Grand Slam at the 1999 US Open the previous year.

The play by Williams through the first four rounds of the 2000 Wimbledon tournament was flawless. Four consecutive straight set victories set up a run to the finals that would take her through a three-match stretch against three future Hall of Famers.

Martina Hingis, who lost to Williams in the quarters, entered Wimbledon as the top seed. She had already won five majors and held the world’s top ranking for the better part of three years, but as she watched Williams serve a 118 mph ace for the match, it was a clear indicator on how the game of tennis was on the verge of change.

Hingis, who had beaten Williams in the US Open semifinals the previous year and in all four previous meetings between the two, did leave with a consolation prize: she won the only set against Williams during the entire Wimbledon tournament.

The semifinal match against Serena Williams would be the second time the two sisters would face each other in a Grand Slam event (Venus beat Serena at the 1998 Australian Open in the round of 64). Williams beat her younger sister in straight sets.

That set up an All-American final against Lindsay Davenport, the No. 2 seed, who entered the final as the defending Wimbledon champion and a three-time Grand Slam champion. 

Williams proved to be too long (6-foot-1, an inch shorter than Davenport) and too agile as she won the title in straight sets to set off a jubilant celebration that started at center court with several leaps of joy. The celebration continued into the stands where she embraced Serena while their father, Richard Williams, beamed with pride.

“I’ve been working so hard all my life to be here. I go to bed at night and dream of winning a Grand Slam. And when I wake up it’s a nightmare. So now that I’ve done it, I don’t have to wake up like that anymore.”

– Venus Williams after winning Wimbledon in 2000

The dream of Richard Williams was realized at that moment: both of his daughters were Grand Slam champions, the first time in history that sisters had won tennis majors. Venus Williams was also the first African American tennis champion at Wimbledon since Althea Gibson went back-to-back in 1957 and 1958.

“I’ve been working so hard all my life to be here,” Williams said during her center court interview. “I go to bed at night and dream of winning a Grand Slam. And when I wake up it’s a nightmare. So now that I’ve done it, I don’t have to wake up like that anymore.”

The year 2000 proved to be the best year of Williams’ career as she won Wimbledon, the US Open and the gold medal at the Olympics in Sydney.

The power shift in tennis, where the Williams sisters would emerge as two dominant forces, had begun.

And the dress she wore at the championship ball, which was also attended by her sister as they won the first of their four Wimbledon doubles titles: it was purple.

“I bought my gown before I came here,” Williams said after her win. “Because I was determined to get this.”

Venus Williams celebrates after defeating Justine Henin in the Wimbledon women’s singles final at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club at Wimbledon on July 8, 2001, in London.

Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images


When the seedings were announced, with Martina Hingis as the top seed and Williams at No. 2, there was anticipation that the world No. 1 and the defending Wimbledon champion would meet in the final. That was quickly dashed when Hingis lost in straight sets in the opening round.

So, the spotlight was clearly on Williams, who was dominant in her first five matches as she didn’t lose a set heading into the semifinal match against a familiar opponent, Davenport.

Williams, after a straight set win over Davenport in the 2000 final, needed three sets in the 2001 Wimbledon semis. That set up a final against Justine Henin, who denied a second straight All-American final by defeating fourth-seeded Jennifer Capriati in the semis.

Former President Bill Clinton showed up for his first Wimbledon to see Williams in the final against Henin, but the match was delayed a day due to a steady rain.

Clinton, interviewed by the BBC during the delay, heaped praise on Williams.

“She’s a magnificent talent,” he said. “She looks like a gazelle on the court. Never seen anything like it; may never see anything like it again.”

Williams, when play resumed the next day, proved Clinton to be prophetic as she, despite losing the second set, had Henin on the defensive most of the afternoon in a three-set victory.

Venus Williams (left) and Roger Federer (right) pose with the trophies at the Wimbledon Winners Dinner at the Savoy Hotel on July 3, 2005, in London.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images


Some call it the best women’s final in Wimbledon history. Other’s take it a step further, calling it the greatest Grand Slam women’s final. Ever.

No matter the label, the 2005 match between Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams was spectacular.

Williams lost the first set and appeared shaky, down 6-5 in the second set with Davenport serving for the championship. But Williams, who had fallen out of the top 10 and hadn’t won a slam since the 2001 US Open, battled back to win the second set in a tiebreaker.

In the third set, Williams, again, showed tremendous resolve as she fought back from a Davenport championship point to eventually win the match, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7. The win by Williams, the No. 14 seed, took two hours and 46 minutes.

But the real victory for Williams was set in motion the day before the final when she met with Wimbledon officials and requested that men and women receive equal pay. When that request was met with silence from Wimbledon officials, Williams — in 2006 on the first day of Wimbledon — wrote an article for The Times of London with the headline: “Wimbledon has sent me a message: I’m only a second class champion.”

By the time Williams returned in 2007, the pay disparity between the male and female winners at Wimbledon had been eliminated.

Venus Williams holds the winner’s trophy after her victory in the Wimbledon women’s singles final against Marion Bartoli at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club at Wimbledon on July 7, 2007, in London.

Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images


It was only fitting that one of the players who pushed the lowest for equal pay between men and women at Wimbledon would be the first to cash in.

The decision to grant equal pay was made in February. But it sure didn’t seem that Williams would be in the mix as she had failed to win a tournament title since that 2005 victory over Davenport at Wimbledon.

But there was Williams, the No. 23 seed, beating No. 18 seed Marion Bartoli in the Wimbledon final (6-4, 6-1).

After struggling in the first week (two of her matches against unseeded players went three sets), Williams plowed through a trio of top-10 players to reach the final with wins over No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova in the fourth round (6-1, 6-3), No. 5 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters (6-3, 6-4), and No. 6 seed Ana Ivanovic in the semis (6-2, 6-4).

“Serena and I would always say how much we wanted to win Wimbledon and we felt it was so important,” Williams said after the match. “Of course, now we have equal prize money.”

Williams then pointed to Billie Jean King in the crowd.

“I see Billie Jean King up there, she fought for years,” Williams said. “No one does more for tennis than her. She’s done so much for women’s tennis. I wouldn’t be here without her.”

Williams was asked on Saturday to reflect on her contributions to equal pay in tennis. 

“A lot of time has passed since that moment, and there’s still a lot of struggles for women in the workplace, and in life around the world,” Williams said. “For sports to take that lead is so important because everyone watches sports. So that moment for me was incredible and it’s still the best moment of my career.”

Venus Williams (left) poses with the Championship trophy and Serena Williams (right) poses with the runners-up trophy after the Wimbledon women’s singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 5, 2008, in London.

Ryan Pierse/Getty Images


For the last Wimbledon championship of her career — and the last major that she’s won — Williams had to get through arguably the game’s greatest player.

Her little sister.

It had to be quite the emotional journey for the two that day: facing each other in the Wimbledon singles final earlier in the day, then playing alongside one another during the Wimbledon doubles final.

While earlier matches pitting the two against each other were lackluster, the sisters in the 2008 final played with an intensity often absent in their professional battles. 

“You sort of don’t want this match to end,” John McEnroe, working the match for television, said at one point during the competitive second set. “This is one that if it went on for a couple more hours would be quite amazing.”

The match was the third meeting between the sisters in a Wimbledon final, with Serena Willaims winning the others in 2002 and 2003. But on this day, big sister Venus was the sharper of the two as she escaped with the straight set win (7-5, 6-4).

At the end of the match, Venus didn’t shake her little sister’s hand. Instead, they embraced, as they always did following their one-on-one matches.

“With Serena, since she’s my sister, I’m thinking ‘how is she doing, is she OK, what can I do for her,’ ” Venus said weeks later in an appearance on the Larry King Show. “Whereas with my other opponents, I don’t think any of those things.

The two have met 31 times over the course of their careers, and the 2008 Wimbledon final was the second of their three meetings that year (Venus lost to Serena at the Bangalore Open in March, the only match of their 31 that went three sets; Venus lost to Serena in the quarterfinals at the US Open later that year). While 2008 marked the final Wimbledon singles championship won by Williams, the sisters would win doubles titles in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2016.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.