By Simon Evans
LONDON (Reuters) – With five Wimbledon singles titles to her name, her usually dominant sister Serena absent and a decent run of form ahead of the grass season, Venus Williams is rightly viewed as a challenger at the All England Club this week.
But her involvement in a fatal motor accident, which led to the death of a 78-year-old Florida man, has left her understandably in an emotional state – generating support from others in the game and also concern over whether it will hurt her bid for a sixth title.
After winning her first-round match against Belgian Elise Mertens in straight sets, the 37-year-old Williams broke down in tears during a press conference when asked about how she was coping with the incident.
“There are really no words to describe, like, how devastating and … yeah. I’m completely speechless,” Williams said before leaving the room.
Last week, Palm Beach Gardens police released a preliminary report saying she was the driver at fault in a June 9 accident that injured Jerome Barson, a passenger in the other car. Barson was taken to a Florida trauma center where he died 13 days later, according to the Palm Beach county medical examiner.
Petra Kvitova, two-time Wimbledon winner and one of the favorites again this year, said she was sure that it was tough for Venus to focus on her game.
“I think it’s difficult, especially in her position. I mean, every traumatic situation is always tough. I feel like for women it’s more difficult because we are more sensitive and more emotional than … guys. So I feel like it’s not easy,” she said.
Kvitova recently had to cope with her own dramatic situation after she was knifed during an attempted robbery at her home in the Czech Republic in December.
The 27-year-old was out of the game for over five months while her hand healed. She acknowledged the differences with the Williams situation, but she said she understood it can be difficult to focus.
“I mean, you still want to be focused on each point that you are playing, but sometimes you just get upset with something else. It’s just difficult to switch for the tennis again.
“I know that she doesn’t really have a good time right now, but I wish her all the best,” she said.
Defending men’s champion Andy Murray agreed that concentration would probably be hard for Venus.
“Obviously, it is horrific when anything like that happens. I’m sure it must be tough for her to focus on her tennis just now,” he said.
“I don’t know how you advise someone on that. It’s obviously horrible. I think, unless you’ve been through it, you don’t know. You don’t know what to do,” he said.
How much of an impact the situation will have on Williams’ performances remains to be seen, but former world number one Mats Wilander says it is a possible factor.
“I have no idea what she must be feeling on the inside,” Wilander said of Williams.
“I had been thinking she might have a chance of winning this, but now I am not sure … you could see when she was playing that she has the whole world on her shoulders. When the matches get tough and you are suffering emotionally … it is tough.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Larry King)