In a shocking upset, Venus Williams has lost the Wimbledon Ladies’ finals to Garbiñe Muguruza Blanco. Sports journalists have piled on to analyze the loss, to such an extent that Muguruza’s win is treated almost as an afterthought. Notably, Muguruza has not only won the 2017 Wimbledon Rosewater Dish, she is also the first player to defeat both Williams sisters in Grand Slams finals. During many post-match analyses, it was continually emphasized that Williams suffers from Sjören’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that impacts her energy level. She was recently implicated, and then exonerated, in a traffic accident that killed an elderly man. This drama played out considerably in the press, allowing for an understandable explanation that she was under stress.
The rather clichéd implication of such comments, unfortunately, is to present Williams as an emotionally fragile woman, who “fell apart” on the court. It is probably significant that this comes on the heels of a season in which Serena Williams has also been elaborately psychoanalyzed in the press. It is worth noting that both sisters have responded with aplomb. Yet there is no particular reason to look for reasons here. Williams has taken the big salver home from Wimbledon five times; she has four Olympic gold medals; she has set numerous records for both the number of wins and the length of her winning streaks. Her role in tennis history is unquestioned: indeed, for much of this century Wimbledon has simply been a house contest between the Williams sisters.
But you can’t stay on top forever; Williams is 37, Muguruza is 23. Winning streaks have to end. The end is certainly near once you are setting records for being the “oldest athlete who ever….”. We can talk about traffic accidents or (fairly) rare diseases, but the real story here is that everyone passes their prime at some point, and there is always a new generation on the rise.