WIMBLEDON – The first few questions were gingerly asked, because it’s not subject matter that’s easily brought up in a tennis press conference.
As well, the press conference stewards have a lot of experience with off-court questions and cutting off reporters at the pass. So it’s almost like trying to get through a censor at times.
But Williams’ 7-6 (7) 6-4 victory over Elise Mertens of Belgium was not the most newsworthy Williams story of the day.
It was the first time the 37-year-old had met with the media since word leaked out about the car crash she had been involved in last June 9 in Florida. A man in the other car, 78-year-old Jerome Barson, ended up dying in hospital two weeks later.
Some failed attempts
“Can you describe your feelings being back at Wimbledon after still a very tough period?”
“How difficult has it been, the last couple weeks, for you?”
“How would you describe your emotions of the last month, all the way through being here today?”
“And your emotions before you got here over the last month?”
“You had your great run in Melbourne. You spoke about the simple life, a dog, love playing tennis. Out of nowhere the incident occurred in Florida. Can you talk about dealing with how life gives you the inexplicable changes, curve balls, how you’ve been dealing with that yourself, if you would.”
“Do you think having gone through all the things you have, both mentally and physically, that will help you deal with this situation when you’re just trying to be a tennis player?”
Venus was not answering the questions put to her with anything more than platitudes.
If an answer was to be had, someone was going to have come straight out with it, or come out with it the right way.
Finally, one journalist found the right way to ask it.
“I saw that you wrote on your Facebook some very heartfelt words about the accident. Anything else you would want to say about that?”
Finally, Williams answered.
“There are really no words to describe, like, how devastating and – yeah. I’m completely speechless. It’s just – yeah, I mean, I’m just…”
She couldn’t get any more words out. The tears came.
To see Williams – so strong, having been through so much in her life and always handling whatever came with strength and grace, become so emotional in public was … It was poignant.
The steward announced that Williams couldn’t really discuss the situation any further, clearly because of pending legal issues. And then he asked her if she wanted a moment.
Williams left the room to gather herself. Surprisingly, she came back, with the steward suggesting, perhaps, that tennis questions be asked.
The subject eventually veered back to the accident, and that was pretty much the end of it.
So it is clearly with a heavy heart that Williams undertakes her 20th Wimbledon. Compared to the family that lost a husband, father and grandfather, of course, it pales in comparison.
Wimbledon only posted the press-conference excerpts involving strictly tennis questions. Which seems so, well, “message control” given everyone knows what happened.