Friday, May 24, 2013

Should Venus retire?


I found the question to be offensive and told my friend so. We began to argue. She believes that Venus is ruining her legacy by continuing to hang around the game. She wants that the last memories of Venus Williams not be ones in which she is being beaten by the likes of Laura Robson in the first round of the Italian Open.

I think that that position is completely unfair. In fact it’s unfair to both Venus and Laura. It implies that Laura Robson is so talentless that she ought not to beat a player like Venus Williams. This is the same Laura Robson who won Olympics silver with Andy Murray, and took out Kvitova in Australia earlier this year. Laura can play decent tennis. And as a lefty, she can challenge the best on a good day. And although Serena then beat her in straights, she had her moments of challenging Serena.

But the question in my title is particularly offensive to Venus Williams herself. Don’t get me wrong, I kind of understand why some folks are asking it. The well-wishers are probably concerned about Venus’ health. But surely Venus and her doctors know her limits better than we do? Surely the specialists she can afford have blessed off on her decision to remain active?

Furthermore, from a psychological point of view, Venus may be healthier because she is continuing to do something she loves. Her motivation to stay healthy will increase if she remains actively engaged in doing things she enjoys. What should she retire and do? How could staying home and twiddling her thumbs possibly be the healthier path for her?

Retirement is a huge and depressing step for a lot of people. They have to give up their self-identity as workers and doers and find another way to extract meaning from life. And if Venus does not feel ready to make that step, no one should force her to do it.

I've written before about how much I really dislike it when people start calling for any player to retire. Already the drumbeat is also starting for Roger Federer. His latest loss to Nadal tells me only that he still has a mental block when it comes to playing Nadal – not that he should hang up his tennis shoes any time soon.

If Tommy Haas had listened to the naysayers, he would never have made it back from injury and his parents’ crisis to play great tennis. If Agassi had listened to the detractors, he would not have had the courage to go back to the challengers and re-find his form. If Kimiko Date-Krumm hadn't dusted off the cobwebs, she would not now be ranked  34th in the world at the sweet young age of 43. 

I believe that people should retire from playing a sport when they want to, and on their own terms. No one should be forced out of the game by a bunch of fans who want the reflection of all of the glory when the player is on top, but none of the pain as the player begins to struggle.

So to answer my own question, no Venus should not retire. She should continue playing tennis for as long as she wants to and feels healthy enough to do so. She is currently ranked 41st in the world. Ranked just below her are Daniela Hantuchova and Francesca Schiavone. Are we saying that these women should retire too?

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