Venus Williams, seven-time major winner, equal pay champion, and all-around legend, posted a video of herself reacting to her run to the U.S. Open final as a 17-year-old. Here is the video, which I suggest you watch in its entirety, because it is incredible.
Before getting into analysis, here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Oh, good god, that attitude! No wonder they hated me.” (This after Venus watches her 17-year-old self go right at her opponent with a forehand on top of the net, then puts away a smash.)
“First serve, a hundred and what, 17 miles an hour? At 17? [laughs] Oh, 119!” (After Venus hits a punishing ace down the middle to close out her first round match.)
“I was fast!”
“Wow, I was so serious. I gotta get this attitude again. All business! Just business. Like, I shoulda had a briefcase.”
“Forehand’s a little old school, with the straight take-back, thank god I’ve changed it.”
“Playing smart, just attacking, relentless. Those hands! I don’t have those hands now.” (After a slick drop shot winner at net.)
“I wonder how Anke [Anke Huber, Venus’ third-round opponent] felt. Just playing this seventeen-year-old, who’s like, out of nowhere, and she’s top-ten in the world! She must have felt so much pressure. I’m sorry, Anke. She’s a nice lady.”
“Ooh, bad second serve. She shoulda made me eat that. I woulda made me eat that.”
“She’s playing to my backhand too much. She really shoulda made me hit forehand after forehand after forehand, ’cause it was gonna break down. That’s why you gotta have strategy.”
“Oh, that’s not a drop shot, that’s a Christmas gift!”
“It looks like I have a game plan out here, is the weird part. And I know I didn’t!”
“Oh, come on, keep running, Venus!”
“Nobody gets that except the ballboy!” (After watching herself hit a huge crosscourt forehand winner.)
“Go straight at her…oh, Venus, why did you do that? I was being nice!”
“Oh, man, I still have a big forehead.”
“I just remember, like, choosing myself that day. I chose me, and I chose that I could do it.”
“I mean, that is real maturity for a 17-year-old. 17-year-old me is more mature than…you know, whatever age I am.”
“This is so cool to watch! No one’s more excited than Serena, that’s so sweet! Actually makes me a little teary.” (Watching her celebrate after winning an incredibly tight semifinal.)
“I was never upset with myself about this match, because these are things you can’t prepare for, but these are moments that you build on. And I knew what I lacked, and I knew what I had to work on.” (On losing the final to Martina Hingis.)
“I had a mouthful of braces, and the weird part is I liked my braces. I was a major nerd.”
“Do you know what it’s like to just lose when you get to the end? Like, you’re there, you can see the trophy, but you can’t hold it. But it made me better.”
It was fascinating to see how Venus was impressed with her younger self’s raw talent, but is also way more tactically knowledgeable and experienced than she was then. Experience, she seemed to feel, is invaluable. She mentioned learning how to play opponents over the course of her career, but being next-to-clueless on her first opportunities. Success in tennis is learned, not faked.
Another intriguing aspect of the video was how much importance Venus placed on having belief that she could win. It seemed that belief was a barrier between the certainty of losing and giving herself a chance to win with her tennis — that if she didn’t think she could win, the forehands and backhands were practically irrelevant. She cited not believing in herself enough as the reason she lost the final, and I don’t think a single stat came up in the video. It was an enlightening view into the intense self-belief of a legend of the game — she could do anything, she just had to trust herself to fulfill her own potential.
Venus mentioned that she didn’t and doesn’t dive into the past often; it’s all about the future. She was wistful, she said, at watching her younger self. She seemed happy. I thought of something @PusherT7 once said on Twitter: the past is a nice place to visit, but it’s dangerous to stay for too long. I don’t think Venus will ever have that problem. When watching herself celebrate wins, she said that she feels the same pure, childlike joy even now. This is over 24 years later, practically a quarter-century, more time than I have been alive. Her passion for the game pulses through the screen.
It’s hard to fathom what Venus did at her very first U.S. Open. Despite having a near-total lack of experience, she marched all the way to the final, toppling the eighth and eleventh seeds along the way. Three years later, the trophy would be in her arms. Her first and last major final appearances are 20 years apart. Many professional players have cut their careers short after less than half that amount of time, and not always for injury reasons. It is athletic longevity at its most impressive — recall that Venus was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011, and the feat begins to feel downright superhuman.
“What would you tell your 17-year-old self?” Venus asked before and after her analysis of her 1997 U.S. Open run. I’d tell mine to watch more of her highlights. Thank goodness for the permanence of YouTube, and for the permanence of Venus Williams.