Five-time singles champion Venus Williams showed up at Wimbledon on the eve of the championships, sparking speculation over what role she will play.

The 42-year-old American has played just one tournament since losing to Ons Jabeur in the second round at Wimbledon last year.

That lone appearance came at the Chicago Open in August, when she was beaten in her opening match by Hsieh Su-wei.

Williams has not made a retirement announcement, and it may be that she intends to play an active part in Wimbledon, although she has not entered the women's singles or women's doubles.

The American great has seven grand slams among her 49 career singles titles and has won six Wimbledon doubles crowns with sister Serena Williams, among their 14 slams as sport's greatest sister act.

One avenue that may be open to Venus is mixed doubles. She was not listed on Wimbledon's entry list for the invitational doubles, an event for veterans. The mixed doubles line-up has yet to be revealed.

Williams was pictured at Wimbledon by a Getty photographer at the All England Club, carrying a red sports bag, and later in the evening posted on Instagram that she was at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at London Stadium.

Serena has entered the singles on a wildcard, having made her competitive comeback on doubles duty alongside Jabeur at Eastbourne after being absent from the tour since last year's Wimbledon. She is a seven-time singles champion at London's grass-court grand slam.

Iga Swiatek said it was "special" to have produced a longer winning run than Serena Williams and ominously vowed she can take her game to another level after triumphing at the French Open.

The world number one outclassed Coco Gauff on Court Philippe-Chatrier to win her second grand slam title, beating the teenager 6-1 6-3.

Swiatek's victory was her 35th in a row, one more than Williams' best winning streak from 2013, and the Pole is the first player to prevail in nine WTA Tour finals in a row.

Venus Williams is the only other woman since the start of 2000 to have reeled off 35 consecutive victories, while Swiatek and Serena Williams are the only women in the same period to have won six titles in the first six months of a year.

Swiatek expressed her pride at having gone one better than superstar Serena.

She said: "It may seem pretty weird, but having that 35th win and kind of doing something more than Serena did, it's something special.

"Because I always wanted to have some kind of a record. In tennis it's pretty hard after Serena's career. So that really hit me.

"Obviously winning a grand slam too, but this one was pretty special because I felt like I've done something that nobody has ever done, and maybe it's gonna be even more. This one was special."

The two-time French Open champion added: "Before the match, before the tournament, I was like, 'Okay, is it going to be even possible to beat Serena's result?'.

"I realised that I would have to be in a final. I was, like, 'Ah, we will see how the first rounds are going to go'. I didn't even think about that before. But right now I feel like the streak is more important. I kind of confirmed my good shape."

Swiatek has been on another level to her rivals this year but says there is room for improvement.

"For sure," she said. "There is always something to improve, honestly. I'm still not a complete player. Especially, I feel like even on the net I could be more solid.

"This is something that Coco actually has, because I think she started working on that much, much earlier than me. There are many things. I'm not going to tell you, because it may sound like I'm concerned about some stuff."

Iga Swiatek ticked off a whole host of accomplishments as her 34-match winning streak carried her into the French Open final on Thursday.

The world number one was in sensational form heading to Roland Garros after winning five consecutive tournaments.

And there has appeared little prospect of Swiatek slowing in Paris, with her 6-2 6-1 defeat of Daria Kasatkina securing a sixth WTA Tour final appearance in a row.

Swiatek is the first player to make six finals in the first six months of the year since Serena Williams reached seven before the halfway mark in 2013.

She has also now matched Williams' best winning run this century, with only Novak Djokovic in 2011 (43), Roger Federer in 2006 (42) and Venus Williams in 2000 (35) enjoying longer sequences across both the ATP and WTA Tours since 2000.

Swiatek's feats are all the more impressive given her age, as she turned 21 just this week.

Now with 20 wins at Roland Garros, the 2020 champion is the youngest female player to that mark since Martina Hingis in 1999.

Only eight women – Evonne Goolagong, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Hingis, Kim Clijsters and Ana Ivanovic – have reached their second French Open final at a younger age.

Will Smith has apologised to Serena and Venus Williams and their family, as well as Chris Rock, after his on-stage slap aimed at the comedian marred an Academy Award win.

The Williams sisters were at the Oscars in Los Angeles on Sunday to see Smith win Best Actor for his portrayal of their father Richard in the biopic King Richard.

However, before Smith took to the stage to collect his award, he was involved in the major flashpoint of the night and one of the most remarkable incidents in Academy Awards history.

Smith stormed the stage when Rock, while presenting Best Documentary Feature, made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith.

Rock appeared to make a comment on Pinkett Smith's hair, which prompted Smith – after originally smiling at the joke – to take to the stage and strike the comedian before telling him to "keep my wife's name out your f***ing mouth".

Smith returned to his seat and was allowed to remain in attendance for the rest of the ceremony, giving a lengthy and emotional acceptance speech in which he apologised to The Academy.

Almost 24 hours past before Smith took to his Instagram page to address the issue again, explaining he took offence to a remark apparently related to his wife's alopecia but also again apologising – including to the Williams family.

"Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive," he wrote. "My behaviour at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable.

"Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada's medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.

"I would like to publicly apologise to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.  

"I would also like to apologise to The Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world.

"I would like to apologise to the Williams family and my King Richard family. I deeply regret that my behaviour has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us.

"I am a work in progress."

In her own post on Sunday, Serena Williams had seemingly sought only to address Smith's success at the Oscars.

"This night has been surreal," she wrote. "To spend it sitting next to my sisters meant more than anything.

"I am so grateful to The Academy for making this an unforgettable night, and to Will Smith for bringing this story to the big screen and honouring my family. This will always be a night to remember."

Serena and Venus Williams attended the Academy Awards on Sunday as Will Smith took home the Best Actor prize at this year's Oscar ceremony for playing their father in the biographical drama King Richard.

The Williams sisters, widely considered two of the sport's pre-eminent players with 30 grand slam singles titles between them, were executive producers on the film, which charts their meteoric rise.

King Richard was nominated for six Oscars in total, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress, for Aunjanue Ellis who plays the pair's mother Oracene Price.

It was not without controversy, however, after Smith – who takes on the role of the sisters' father Richard in the film – struck presenter Chris Rock for a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, shortly before accepting his honour.

"This night has been surreal," 23-time major winner Serena wrote on Instagram following the ceremony. "To spend it sitting next to my sisters meant more than anything.

"I am so grateful to The Academy for making this an unforgettable night, and to Will Smith for bringing this story to the big screen and honouring my family. This will always be a night to remember."

Smith overshadowed his own victory though following his altercation with comedian Rock.

He apologised to the Academy during his subsequent acceptance speech, in which he was tearful, while praising Richard Williams as a "fierce defender of his family".

"I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story," he stated. "I want to apologise to the Academy. I want to apologise to all my fellow nominees.

"This is a beautiful moment and I'm not crying for winning an award. It's not about winning an award for me. Thank you for this moment and thank you on behalf of Richard and Oracene and the entire Williams family."

Andy Murray has expressed his sympathy for Naomi Osaka over the abuse she was subjected to at Indian Wells but says athletes must deal with it.

Osaka was reduced to tears as she crashed out of the Indian Wells Open with a 6-0 6-4 third-round defeat to 21st seed Veronika Kudermetova on Saturday.

A member of the crowd could be heard shouting "Naomi, you suck" after the four-time grand slam champion had been broken in the first game of the match.

Osaka approached the chair umpire to report the incident and held further discussions with the court supervisor after being insulted again.

Murray says there is no place for such conduct, but believes players must be able to ignore it.

He said: “It's a difficult one. I've often thought watching certain sports, I wouldn't say I've often seen it loads in tennis … but if I watch a football or a soccer match and a player's going to take throw-in or a corner kick and the crowd are just hurling insults at those individuals.

"I always think, how is that allowed? Like, you can't do that. If you're doing that to someone when you're walking down the street or in any other sort of work environment, that's obviously not tolerated.

"I've played in certain atmospheres as well myself in tennis, like Davis Cup atmospheres, away from home, especially where the atmosphere's intense, and sometimes things are said and it's not that comfortable.

"The people that come to watch, you want them to be there and supporting the players and not making it more difficult for them. I don't know, but it's also something that's always just kind of been part of sports as well."

He added: "If you go and watch a basketball match, for example, and a player's taking free throws, I would say like almost every basketball match I've been to one of the players has been heckled by the crowd as well

"While it's wrong for those individuals to be doing it, the athletes obviously have to kind of be used to that as well or be able to deal with that too, even though it's not pleasant.

"I feel for Naomi, that obviously it upset her a lot, but it’s always been something that's been part of sport, I guess, as well.

"You have to be prepared for that in some ways and be able to tolerate it because it does happen regularly across all sports."

An emotional Naomi Osaka says being targeted by a heckling spectator during her loss to Veronika Kudermetova reminded of abuse the Williams sisters were subjected to at the Indian Wells Open.

Osaka was reduced to tears as she crashed out with a 6-0 6-4 third-round defeat to 21st seed Veronika Kudermetova at Indian Wells on Saturday.

A member of the crowd could be heard shouting "Naomi, you suck" after the four-time grand slam champion had been broken in the first game of the match.

Osaka approached the chair umpire to report the incident and held further discussions with the court supervisor after being insulted again.

Serena and Venus Williams were subjected to verbal abuse at the prestigious tournament in the Californian desert back in 2001.

The legendary siblings' father, Richard Williams, claimed he had been racially abused at Indian Wells, while Venus Williams said she "heard whatever he heard".

Former world number one Osaka said while trying to hold back the tears after her exit: "I've been heckled before and it didn't really bother me.

"But being heckled here... I've watched videos of Venus and Serena get heckled here and if you've never watched it, you should watch it.

"I don't know why, but it went into my head and got replayed a lot. I just want to say thank you and congratulations [to Kudermetova]." 

Serena Williams boycotted the competition for 14 years before making her Indian Wells return in 2015.

Top seed Elina Svitolina had no trouble booking her spot in the Chicago Women's Open quarter-finals on the same day Venus Williams and Sofia Kenin pulled out of the US Open.

Svitolina made light work of Fiona Ferro on Wednesday, cruising to a 6-4 6-4 victory at the WTA 250 tournament.

The Ukrainian star and bronze medallist at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will face seventh seed Kristina Mladenovic in the quarters.

Marketa Vondrousova – the fifth seed, ninth seed Alize Cornet, Tereza Martincova and Rebecca Peterson also moved through from the round of 16.

At Tennis in the Land, second seed Anett Kontaveit secured a quarter-final berth by topping Caroline Garcia 6-3 6-3 in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Williams and Kenin withdrew from next week's US Open at Flushing Meadows.

Williams – a two-time US Open champion – will not compete in New York due to a persistent leg injury, joining sister Serena in sitting out the year's final grand slam.

"It's super, super, super disappointing," Williams said in a video via her Twitter and Instagram accounts. "I'm having some issues with my leg all this summer, and just couldn't work through it.

"I tried my best here in Chicago [at the WTA 250 Chicago Women's Open], but I just was unable to figure out the equation. And there's been so many times where I've been able to figure it out, even not in the best of my health, but this time, I just couldn't make any miracles work."

Kenin – the 2020 Australian Open champion – withdrew after testing positive for coronavirus.

"Fortunately I am vaccinated and thus my symptoms have been fairly mild," Kenin tweeted. "However I have continued to test positive and thus will not be able to compete at the US Open next week."

"I plan to spend the next several weeks getting healthy and preparing to play well this fall. Thank you all for supporting me. I want to wish all the players the best of luck in New York."

Two-time US Open champion Venus Williams has been given a wildcard entry to participate in this year's tournament.

The 41-year-old American will be making her 23rd appearance at Flushing Meadows and a 15th in a row.

Williams, who has not missed a grand slam since Wimbledon in 2013, is one of eight wild card selections for the women's singles draw.

Former semi-finalist CoCo Vandeweghe and Emma Navarro are joined by teenagers Hailey Baptiste, Ashlyn Krueger, Caty McNally and Katie Volynets.

Storm Sanders has been awarded a reciprocal wild card in agreement with Tennis Australia.

Naomi Osaka will be looking to defend her title in New York, with the main draw scheduled to run from August 30 to September 11.

When two whipsmart kids from Compton first walked through the gates of the All England Club, the history of tennis was ripe for a radical makeover.

With beads in their hair and an air of mystery tailgating them onto the tour, this pair of teenage prodigies soon had the world at their feet.

Now, Serena Williams and Venus Williams are as much a part of Wimbledon tradition as strawberries and cream, and the championships without them is almost unthinkable.

Stacking up a combined 12 singles titles from Wimbledon, and a string of staggering records, this great sporting double act has defined the past quarter of a century in the women's game.

Venus is now 41 years old, and kid sister Serena turns 40 in September. Both will be going flat out for more success at Wimbledon and over the course of the rest of the year. They have been relentless and supremely driven in the pursuit of greatness.

But it feels legitimate now to be talking about how the WTA Tour and the grand slams will look without the Williamses, because as much as they have together pushed the boundaries of achievement in tennis, neither can defy the march of time.

Or at least they cannot keep pushing back against that march, since both have done a truly spectacular job so far.

"Venus and Serena, they changed the game, they elevated the game, and that is the biggest thing that could happen to our sport," Johanna Konta, Britain's former Wimbledon semi-finalist, told Stats Perform.

"They changed the physical requirements, they pushed the whole level of the sport so high, which I think has really accelerated the depth of women's tennis that we're seeing today, and so I can't imagine the day coming when they're not playing.

"I'm sure it will come at some point, but I'm not too sure when that day will be."

 


AGE NO BARRIER?

Serena has a place in the record books as the oldest women's world number one, having last occupied that position in May 2017 at the age of 35 years and 230 days. Next on that list sit Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, both a relatively fledgling 30 when they were last in the top spot.

She is also the second oldest player to hold a top-10 WTA ranking. On Monday, as the championships begin, Serena, currently the world number eight, will be 39 years and 275 days old. Only Billie Jean King (39 years 322 days in October 1983) has held such a lofty place among the sport's elite later in life.

Navratilova comes next, with Venus just a short step behind in fourth place, having last been in the top 10 in July 2018, aged 38 and 29 days.

If Serena wins the women's singles title at Wimbledon this year – and several British bookmakers see her as favourite – it will make her the oldest player in the Open Era to win a title on the women's tour.

King won at Birmingham in 1983 at 39 years and 203 days, and Williams sits fourth on that particular list of the oldest champions for now, having captured the 2020 Auckland title at 38 years and 108 days.

The oldest Wimbledon women's singles champion remains Charlotte Cooper Sterry, triumphant for Britain in 1908 at 37 years and 282 days.

An injection of power and physicality, alongside a whole lot of finesse, has seen the Williamses bring a new dimension to tennis. It is far removed from the game Sterry might have played.


SERVING UP SCUDS

In 2010, only one player on the WTA Tour served more than 300 aces, yet by 2019, the most recent uninterrupted season, that had risen to seven players.

Advances in technology are a factor here, but so too is the scenario whereby a young girl watches Serena and Venus whizzing serves by opponents' ears around the turn of the century and wants to learn how that is done.

Serving need not just be the moment where a point begins, it can be the shot that ends the point too.

Venus owns the record for the fastest serve ever recorded by a woman at Wimbledon – sending down a 129 miles per hour scud on her way to victory in the 2008 final. The player on the receiving end of such vicious hitting that day? Serena.

"I'm glad she did it, because next time I know what to expect," was Serena's punchy post-match response.

From 2008, when the WTA first began to collect such statistics, through to 2016, Serena topped the charts every season when it came to the highest percentage of service games won.

She has also led the way in percentages of first-serve points won in eight of the last 13 seasons.

On July 5, 2012, Serena fired 24 aces past Victoria Azarenka in their Wimbledon semi-final and paired that women's singles record with another – her 102 aces across seven matches also setting an all-time tournament high.

Serena has a 98-12 win-loss career record in singles at Wimbledon, with Venus not far behind on 89-17. Where Venus has won five or her seven slam titles on the grass in London, Serena has accrued seven of her 23 majors at the championships.

Only nine-time champion Navratilova (120) has won more women's singles matches at Wimbledon than Serena. Roger Federer (101) leads the way among the men.

 


SHOWING SERENA THE WAY IN SAN JOSE

Konta handed Serena the heaviest defeat of her career in 2018, inflicting a 6-1 6-0 thrashing in San Jose.

The British player, however, is fully appreciative of Serena's standing in the game, the American's status as an all-time sports great. For Williams to leave the tour would leave a huge hole.

"I don't know anything else. I think that's a very lucky and privileged thing to say as an athlete, to be playing at the same time as one of our greatest ever," said Konta, a Jaguar ambassador.

"Equally, the men can say that with the likes of Roger, Rafa and Djokovic around, it's just a really exciting time to be part of the world of tennis.

"You constantly see players retiring as the years go by; it's a normal process. We had Maria [Sharapova] and Caroline [Wozniacki] retire at the beginning of last year. I think the way they timed their retirement was absolutely incredible.

"It's a normal course to happen, so from a player's perspective there'll be the initial thought of 'Oh my goodness, she's retiring', but the game keeps going and players keep playing.

"More than anything, not having Serena around anymore it will maybe be more noticeable in the fans, in the fandom, in the outside part of the sport, because she is such a big figurehead of our sport and rightly so."

Serena has reached the Wimbledon final on seven of her last 10 appearances in SW19, collecting five titles in that time. The final defeats during that span came in the last two years that Wimbledon has been held, however, with defeats to Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep sure to leave some scars.

 


THE KAFELNIKOV INFLUENCE

In recent years, Serena has invited the likes of showbiz A-listers Jay-Z, Beyonce and Drake to sit in her player's box at courtside, while she is a close friend of Meghan Markle and was a royal wedding guest.

She and Venus were once unknown quantities, but now both transcend their sport.

By the age of 16, Serena had it all mapped out, and her Wimbledon success can be attributed in a very small way to an unexpected Russian influence.

"I have decided when I go on the grass, I am going to serve and volley. There is one man player who plays great on the clay, and then on the grass he actually serves and volleys," Williams told a news conference at the 1998 Lipton Championships in Florida, weeks before her Wimbledon debut. "And I said, Serena, I have to do the same thing."

Who was this mystery man? All-court greats had been in short supply. Agassi?

"Yevgeny Kafelnikov, he plays great on the clay. He actually won the French Open," Williams said at the time. "He actually serve and volleys on the grass. I said, I have to do this too. If he can do it, I believe I can do it. That really helps me."

Former world number one Kafelnikov never went beyond the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, but his surprising influence lives on.

Serena is one short of Margaret Court's all-time record of grand slam titles and dearly wants to at least match that haul but ideally reach 25. The Wimbledon title looks out of reach for Venus, who has fallen out of the world's top 100, but for Serena it is a realistic target.

The elite field is thinning, with Naomi Osaka and defending champion Halep among the withdrawals, and there are question marks over the form and fitness of many other big names in the draw.

The eighth Wimbledon and 24th singles slam feels eminently achievable, and what a moment for the ages that would be.

 


GOING ON THE KONTA ATTACK

Konta was only denied a place in the 2017 Wimbledon final by a valiant Venus, the 37-year-old American experiencing a late-career resurgence during what proved a stellar year for her.

It nevertheless gave the Australian-born Briton a real taste, with a win over Halep en route to the semi-finals showing she has the game to take on the best on grass.

Another grand slam semi-final followed in 2019, this time on clay at the French Open, and quarter-final runs at Wimbledon and the US Open confirmed Konta was the real deal. She previously reached the 2016 Australian Open final four.

It has been tough going since then though, Konta going out in the first round at four of the last five grand slams. Injuries have got in the way, and the joy she felt at winning a title in Nottingham in June 2021 was tempered slightly by a slight knee problem.

That success on English grass was a first tour title for Konta since the 2017 Miami Open, and life for her is good in many respects. On May 17, her 30th birthday, she and boyfriend Jackson Wade became engaged, or as she puts it, they killed "two birds with one stone when it came to milestones on that day".

Assuming the knee holds up, success in Nottingham could pave the way for another fruitful Konta campaign at Wimbledon. Last year's tournament being cancelled due to the pandemic was a blow to everyone but particularly felt by the British players.

"I was really pleased with having won a title, the first title I've won in a few years," Konta said. "It's a very nice accomplishment and something I definitely don't take for granted, because coming by titles is very difficult.

"Obviously, I'm just trying to do the best I can in managing my body. After the quick change onto the grass I just need to take care of the different little niggles that I have and the ongoing things and anything new that arises, but I'm definitely looking forward to Wimbledon.

"I think it's just the fact that we have Wimbledon again this year. Wimbledon's such a big part of our sporting calendar here and our sporting summer.

"For the nation and for international tennis fans, I think it's just really brilliant. The fact we are going to have crowds, that will be almost a new experience having not played in front of big crowds for a long time."

Could Konta even win Wimbledon, becoming Britain's first women's singles champion since Virginia Wade in 1977?

"I definitely feel I have every chance to look to win seven consecutive matches," Konta said. "It's a hard ask and it's difficult to do, but I feel like I have every opportunity, every chance to give it a go and I'm looking forward to trying."

:: Johanna Konta is a Jaguar ambassador. Jaguar is the Official Car of The Championships, Wimbledon. To discover Jaguar’s unmatched experiences visit jaguar.co.uk/Wimbledon

Former world number ones Andy Murray and Venus Williams have been given Wimbledon wildcards.

Three-time grand slam champion Murray missed the French Open to focus on the grass-court season, having been troubled by a groin injury.

The 34-year-old Brit, ranked 124th in the world, was emotional after beating Benoit Paire 6-2 6-2 in his first ATP Tour singles match since March on Tuesday.

Murray's career was in doubt after he underwent hip resurfacing in 2019, but the 34-year-old double Wimbledon champion will play in his home major at the All England Club.

Williams, a winner of five Wimbledon singles titles and a six-time doubles champion at the grass-court major, also received a wild card after dropping out of the top 100 in the rankings.

The 40-year-old American will be in the singles draw 21 years after winning her first Wimbledon title.

Wimbledon did not take place last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but will be the first major outdoor sports in England to be staged with full capacity crowds for the finals weekend of July 10-11.

The Championships will start at SW19 on June 28 with 50 per cent capacity across the venue grounds, Centre Court and No.1 Court. Smaller show courts will be allowed to open at 75 per cent capacity from day one.

From the fourth round, the aim is to increase allocations for Centre Court and No.1 Court, rising to 100 per cent for the finals.

Naomi Osaka's shock withdrawal from the French Open generated an outpouring of support across the tennis world and beyond. 

The four-time grand slam winner pulled out of Roland Garros on Monday, a day after tournament organisers said her continued refusal to attend mandatory press conferences could result in her being thrown out of the event.

Osaka said in a statement posted to social media that she has had bouts of depression since winning the US Open in 2018 and never intended for her stance to become a distraction. 

Monday's action in Paris had mostly been completed when the news broke, but Serena Williams shared her thoughts following an evening match. 

Williams acknowledged feeling anxious dealing with the press at times early in her career, but said she believed the experience made her stronger. 

Top of mind, however, was concern for Osaka. 

"The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like," Williams said.

"We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently.

"You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can, and that's the only thing I can say. I think she's doing the best that she can."

Osaka's fellow players and others took to social media with encouraging messages for the 23-year-old. 

Venus Williams wrote on Instagram: "So proud of you. Take care of yourself and see you back winning soon!"

Young American star Coco Gauff responded to Osaka's tweet by writing "stay strong ... I admire your vulnerability." 

A pair of tennis legends also weighed in on Twitter. 

"I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. I truly hope she will be ok," Martina Navratilova wrote.

"As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental and emotional aspect gets short shrift.

"This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi - we are all pulling for you!"

Billie Jean King added: "It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well."

Mardy Fish, the former ATP player who reached number seven in the world, wrote to Osaka: "Mental health is nothing to criticise. Nothing to joke about. Pls [sic] take your mental health seriously. Without my support system, I truly believe I would not be here today. Here for you."

That public show of support extended beyond tennis, as prominent NFL and NBA players praised Osaka for her courage. 

"We are with you," said Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

NBA star Stephen Curry wrote: "You shouldn't ever have to make a decison like this - but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be don't protect their own. Major respect."

Roland Garros, Wimbledon, the US Open, the Olympic Games, Indian Wells: this year's tennis calendar is not lacking in red-ringed dates.

But August 8 and September 26 are majorly notable in that they will mark the 40th birthdays of Roger Federer and Serena Williams, respectively.

Federer's birthday falls on the final day of the Tokyo Olympics, while Williams reaches the same landmark a fortnight after the US Open women's singles final.

Both have kept their future plans quiet, but it would come as no major surprise if one, or both, were to retire by the end of the year.

Fellow grand slam greats Venus Williams, Andy Murray and Kim Clijsters may also be a matter of months away from bowing out of the professional ranks.

Will life after tennis begin at 40 for Williams and Federer, or could the superstar pair return to the French Open in 2022?

Stats Perform looked at the players who may be considering their futures, what they still want to achieve, and their prospects of attaining those remaining goals.
 

Federer's final fling?

Ahead of his 30th, Federer was asked what it felt like to hit such a milestone.

"Birthdays happen. They're part of life," Federer said. "I'm happy I'm getting older. I'd rather be 30 than 20, to be honest. To me it's a nice time."

A decade on, Federer may be similarly equanimous about hitting 40. Family life is good, he'll never need to borrow a dollar, and he has advanced from 16 grand slams to 20.

But the knees would sooner be 30 than 40, and Federer, remarkable sportsman though he is, is coming to the end of the line in his tennis career. It will hurt the Fedfans to think so, but all the evidence points to it. We are probably witnessing a lap of honour.

Having won Roland Garros only once at his peak, we can surely forget the prospect of any heroics in Paris. Federer needs to win a few rounds though, in order to be sharp and battle-hardened for the grass season. Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open are events where you might give a fit Federer a chance, even at such a veteran age, but he has played only three matches since the 2020 Australian Open, losing two of those.

Target: Federer has never settled for second best, so he will want to be a tournament winner again, no doubt about it. The hunger does not go away after 20 grand slams, but it can be more difficult to sate.

Prospects: Slim, but not forlorn. So much of Federer's game is about feel and ease of movement, and assuming that knee surgery last year means the body is in good shape again, he should be able to call on those staples of his game. Key missing ingredients are the confidence that comes with beating rivals, and match fitness. Federer's 1,243 wins and 103 singles titles count for an awful lot still, and there could be one final hurrah before the Swiss great signs off.


Serena still one short of Court

From precocious teenager to queen of the tour, Williams' tennis journey has been a 25-year odyssey and there is nobody more driven to succeed than the great American.

It must be an intense frustration that she remains rooted on 23 grand slams, one short of Margaret Court's record haul, and the four grand slam final losses she has suffered while on that mark have been cruel blows.

As her 40th birthday approaches, it would not be a surprise if Williams reached that target, but what once felt inevitable now only has the air of being a possibility. She is becoming less of a factor when looking at title favourites, but Williams is still capable of beating top players, still a threat wherever she shows up.

Target: The 24th slam remains the must-have for Williams. Tour titles feel like an irrelevance, and Williams has won just one of those since January 2017, her calendar built around peaking for the majors since returning from giving birth to daughter Olympia.

Prospects: Beating Aryna Sabalenka and Simona Halep at the Australian Open demonstrated Williams still has the game for the big stage, and a semi-final defeat to Naomi Osaka, to whom she has now lost in three of four encounters, should not particularly detract from that. Williams is playing on clay primarily to get in great shape for grass, because Wimbledon, where she plays the surface with a command that others can only envy, is where that elusive 24th slam looks most likely to come.


Amid losing streak, tennis waits to learn what Venus infers

Some suspect that the Williams sisters, having arrived on tour together, might bow out at the same time too. Venus has won 49 WTA Tour-level titles but has recently slipped out of the top 100 for the first time since early 2012. Ahead of turning 41 in June, it is hard to see her being a reliable force again.

The seven-time slam winner will be needing wildcards for the grand slams unless the wins start to flow, and naturally she should have no trouble getting those backdoor tournament entries, but for a player of her stature, losing in the first round most weeks can offer little satisfaction.

It is 21 years since Venus' greatest tennis summer, when she won the Wimbledon, Stanford, San Diego, New Haven, US Open and Olympics singles titles, along with doubles glory alongside Serena at the Olympics and Wimbledon.

Nevertheless, she said at the Australian Open in February: "I'm trying to get better every day. I think that no matter what happens to you in life, you always hold your head up high, you give a hundred million percent. That's what I do every single day. That's something that I can be proud of."

Target: Venus last won a singles slam in 2008, so forget that. A run to the second week of a slam is not entirely unimaginable, or she could stun a big name early on. Venus will want to wring every last drop from her career, but you suspect more than that, she would love to be there to watch her little sister win that 24th slam.

Prospects: Since a second-round exit to Elina Svitolina at the 2019 US Open, Venus has won only four matches at WTA level, and she is presently on a run of five consecutive defeats, which began with a 6-1 6-0 trouncing by Sara Errani at the last-64 stage of the Australian Open. Her last Wimbledon appearance resulted in a first-round loss to the then 15-year-old Coco Gauff two years ago, so even hopes of a resurgence at the event she has won five times appear somewhat remote.


We wish you a Murray summer

Once a grand slam nearly man, Murray banished that reputation with his US Open triumph and twin Wimbledon titles, not to mention the two Olympic gold medals, the Davis Cup victory, and the 14 Masters 1000 tournaments he won along the way, a big-time champion on every surface.

What a career, and it deserves a fitting ending. Murray is battling one injury after another and will miss the French Open, hoping his tired frame holds up to see him through Queen's Club, Wimbledon, the Olympic hat-trick bid and the US Open.

Target: He would probably say another slam is possible, if he can get healthy and stay that way. The 'if' there is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting though.

Prospects: Should Murray manage to stay injury-free, then it will be enthralling to see what he can achieve. However, since an unexpected title in Antwerp in October 2019, he has won just four matches on the ATP Tour and one in the Davis Cup. The resurfaced hip, the troublesome groin, the pains of being Andy Murray aged 34 are proving wearing on the Scot. If he is fit enough to feature at Wimbledon, it would be a joy to see him play even just one more great singles match on Centre Court. Admirers must hope Murray follows the pattern of his career by exceeding expectations, which are logically low.


Kim wildcard wonder?

If you missed the Clijsters comeback, it is hardly surprising, given she returned to the WTA tour after a near eight-year absence just weeks before the pandemic shut down tennis, and she has barely been seen since. The three-time US Open winner was dealt bum draws in her comeback year but gave Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta and Ekaterina Alexandrova enough to think about in the course of three first-round defeats.

Since losing behind closed doors in three sets to Alexandrova at the US Open, Clijsters has undergone knee surgery and had COVID-19, and she does not plan to play again until after Wimbledon.

Target: If Clijsters, who turns 38 in June, can build up form and fitness, then some kinder draws would be a fitting reward for persistence. She could have quietly called time on this comeback, but the former world number one is a fighter, and it would be fitting, perhaps, if her career were to end with a night session match in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Court at Flushing Meadows. The Belgian's intentions are not entirely clear, but that prospect must have crossed her mind.

Prospects: The New York wildcard would be assured if Clijsters can show she is in any sort of form, given her US Open history. Clijsters' immediate potential is entirely unclear, but she had the highest game-winning percentage (66.7 per cent) of any woman in World Team Tennis last year, and Jessica Pegula, Sofia Kenin and Jennifer Brady were all part of that competition. Bring that game to a major and we're talking.

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