Commentary

Venus, Serena: Don't go quietly

Updated: May 20, 2011, 12:33 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

A year ago Venus and Serena Williams entered the French Open as the top two seeds in a Grand Slam for the first time since 2003.

[+] EnlargeAndre Agassi
Al Bello/Getty ImagesIn 2006, Andre Agassi was hobbled by his body but buoyed by fans who knew his U.S. Open appearance was the culmination of a great career.

While inconsistencies in their playing earlier in the 2010 season made me skeptical about the validity of the ranking, I was still excited to see their names at the top of the bracket.

They are legends and when they are playing their best tennis, their only true challenge is each other.

This year, not only are they not in the Top 10 heading into the French, they are not even playing. In fact, we're not sure when they'll be back because they keep withdrawing from tournaments.

Once again poor health has sidelined them, reminding fans that while the Williams sisters may still be the biggest names in tennis, their best tennis is firmly in the past. Venus' reoccurring knee problem is a by-product of wear and tear, and Serena's blot clot scare and the freaky restaurant accident that led to her foot surgery are just plain rotten luck. But there's no escaping the fact that by the end of the year both players will be in their 30s and, well, time doesn't care what's in your trophy case.

Shaq gets fat.

Jeter gets jeered.

Beckham can't quite bend it the way he used to.

I don't believe the Williams Sisters will ever take the court in such poor shape that their fans would wince when they tune in to watch. Perhaps more so than any other Hall of Fame caliber athletes, the two have always managed a comfortable, balanced life apart from their sport so I'm sure when their time is truly up, they won't be desperately trying to hold on.

I just hope that when they do come to the decision to hang up their rackets, they tell us ahead of time so we can properly say goodbye. They deserve a standing ovation from the globe for infusing the sport with a level of excitement it hadn't seen since the 1980s. They deserve a statue at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for keeping the U.S. interested in the sport when no American man could. They deserve to take a told-you-so curtsey so the naysayers who came up with all of the reasons they couldn't are forced to acknowledge that they did.

[+] EnlargeVenus Williams and Serena Williams
Larry French/Getty ImagesVenus and Serena Williams will undoubtedly make plenty of public appearances after they retire, but fans deserve to know when their careers are ending so they can give the sisters one final round of on-court recognition.

Over and over and over again.

My concerns for their proper send-off comes from the fact that in women's tennis not everyone who retires announces it ahead of time. Not even the great ones. Earlier this year, four-time French Open champ Justine Henin said she was done on her website seemingly out of the blue (she also had abruptly retired while ranked No. 1 in 2008). But at least she said something. Sometimes, while trying to recover from injury, players just quietly go away.

Nine-time Slam champion Monica Seles didn't officially retire until 2008, five years after playing her final match.

Williams sisters nemesis Jennifer Capriati still hasn't officially announced hers, despite shoulder injuries that have kept the former No. 1 player off the court since 2004.

Lindsay Davenport kinda retired, came back after giving birth to her first child, left again, had another child and is now doing commentary for the Tennis Channel and is scheduled to play World Team Tennis in the summer, which would be like an older Kobe Bryant quietly leaving the Lakers to join the Harlem Globetrotters.

Steffi Graf, arguably the greatest player of all time, retired a couple of days before she was supposed to play in a tournament as the No. 2 seed back in 1999. She had won 22 Grand Slams and had been ranked No. 1 for a record 377 weeks, but she just decided to bounce after Wimbledon that year.

"I feel I have nothing left to accomplish," she said during a news conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

[+] EnlargeSteffie Graf
Getty ImagesFans at Wimbledon in 1999 did not know they were watching the final moments of Steffi Graf's career.

Which was true, but man, at least let us properly say goodbye.

Come to think of it, 1999 was also the year NFL great Barry Sanders faxed his retirement to the Detroit Lions. Maybe something was in the water that year.

In any case, I am hoping when the sisters decide to say goodbye they don't follow in the footsteps of Capriati, Seles, Davenport and Graf. I hope they rip a page out of Andre Agassi's book and announce the year as their last and then thank each crowd along the way for being there -- in good times and in bad.

Now something tells me we won't have to worry about Serena going away quietly. She's always adored being in the spotlight and soaking in the moment. That's part of the reason she's been the best player of her generation.

But Venus? She's more reserved and quiet, and she very well may decide to just hold a news conference the way Graf did, and walk away.

But I hope she doesn't. Like Graf, she deserves court time in front of a crowd that knows they're watching the final matches of an all-time great career. She and her sister transformed the game of tennis together. They should be properly thanked, together. Or at least equally.

Because when they were in their prime, they had no equal. Except maybe each other.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine