The 2020 season, based solely on her performances on court, has been far from adequate for Venus Williams. But the COVID-19 pandemic made her feel even more “alone,” especially during the months of lockdown.
“I was home for 3 straight months. That is the longest I have been in one place since I was seventeen years old,” the 40-year-old wrote in a letter published on her clothing brand, Eleven, website.
“Despite challenges, like no sports, Wimbledon being cancelled, and fear of the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, I can honestly say there’s truly no place like home. I am grateful for that chance for a long-overdue homecoming.
“At the end of those three months, I longed for tennis. With months without the game and no clear timeline on when it was coming back, I found a new appreciation for tennis. I discovered true excitement in my craft, in being good at something.”
Along with finding a new love for the sport that has seen her win seven singles Grand Slam titles, rise to the World No 1 rank and become one of the most recognisable players in the sport, Williams asserts that the unexpected break brought in a stinging sense of loneliness.
“I found myself alone. A lot of us found ourselves alone this year. Alone in our homes, alone with our thoughts, alone with our fears, alone with sickness,” she said.
“I even found myself alone on the court. Playing without fans was a drag, continues to be a drag, and will forever be a drag until we can get our fans back safely! The fans are ones that give us athletes a chance to have a job. If the fans don’t watch, if no one cares, we are irrelevant. There is no sport without fans.
“I thought I was playing for me, but all along I was playing for them. The echo of empty stadiums rang louder with each contest. The silence was too much to bear. Right now I can’t handle not being without the fans. I learned, well we all learned, we can’t do this alone,” she wrote.
Ever since the tour resumed in August, tournaments have had either no fans or allowed audiences in limited numbers. The US Open for example was played behind closed doors and only 1000 fans were allowed in per day at the French Open.
The organisers of the upcoming Australian Open will reportedly allow stands to be filled no more than 25 percent capacity.
Central to play being allowed to resume was the need for the bio-secure bubble.
Players were to test before entering, and regularly while inside. At the same time though, there were numerous restrictions put in place.
“It’s so strange to be told where you can go, where you can’t go, who you can sit next to, how long you can stay someplace….
“I look forward to the simple pleasures in life that are currently absent, like being able to give someone a hug or even being squished together at the bar with other human beings and have a drink being spilled on me. I never thought I would miss that!”
The current World No 79 has played in eight events in the 2020 calendar, but reached the second round just once. That is a stat she would hope to change in the upcoming season.
And she hopes to learn from what she experienced this year.
“A lot of people were hurting this year, a lot was lost, a lot was gained, too much was missed. But what I won’t miss are the lessons I learned. Sometimes the best lessons are the ones you didn’t ask for. That was 2020.”