A quick perusal of Google reveals that there are books offering us “the wit and wisdom” of any number of celebrities past and present, real and fictional. Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Ronald Reagan, Tyrion Lannister, the Crawley family of Downton Abbey: They all, apparently, have something to teach us about smiling through life’s many challenges.

But surely none of them have anything, in the bon mots department, on Venus Williams. Over the course of the first eight days at this year’s Wimbledon, the 36-year-old former No. 1 has shown off all of her savvy and sagacity. On the court, Venus has reached her first quarterfinal at the All England Club since 2010. Off it, she has been even better. In her post-match interviews, Venus has turned herself into a one-woman deep-quote machine.

On Day 1, after outlasting Donna Vekic, a woman 17 years her junior, in three long sets, Venus was asked about aging. In response, she gave us this bit of cosmic optimism to chew on:

“I don’t think anyone feels older,” she said. “You have this infinity inside you that feels like it could go on forever.”


The Infinite Optimism of Venus Williams

The Infinite Optimism of Venus Williams

One week later, after outlasting Carla Suarez Navarro, a woman just nine years her junior—that’s about as close as Venus’ opponents get to her age these days—the five-time Wimbledon champion was asked if she was starting to “surprise" herself. Here was the philosophical nugget that she came up with, off the top of her head:

“The first time you win, nobody picks you; the last time you win, nobody picks you,” Venus said, with that zen grin she gets after a victory. “You’ve just got to pick yourself.”

Venus has a lifetime of experience to prove the aptness of that answer. Nobody, knowing where she and her sister grew up in Los Angeles, would have picked them to become Wimbledon champions someday. And nobody, looking at the age next to Venus’ name now, would have picked her to be the champion again this year. Yet here she is, in her 71st major tournament, three matches from the title. When you’ve held the winner’s plate— serendipitously named the Venus Rosewater Dish—over your head five times, nothing but a sixth will do.

“You’ve got to live in the moment,” Venus said last week, “When it’s over, it’s over.”

In truth, it has looked over for Venus on a number of occasions at Wimbledon this year.

At the start of the century, she won her titles there with blinding, beaded, trailblazing athleticism. If she wins it in 2016, she’ll have done it with a veteran’s canny resilience. Venus’s first three opponents this year were 4 years old, 5 years old and 4 years old, respectively, when she first went all the way at Wimbledon in 2000. They've never known a time when they weren't watching Venus play on TV. Yet in each of those matches, two of which went three sets, it was Venus who picked her spots, paced herself and proved to be the stronger player down the stretch.


Against Suarez Navarro, Venus was sluggish through the first two games—the BBC commentator doing the match even invoked those dreaded words, Sjogren’s Syndrome. But she patiently looped the ball deep until, midway through the first set, she pounced on a crosscourt backhand from Suarez Navarro and drove it up the line for a winner. Had Venus been playing a cat and mouse game with her opponent? Does it take a few games for her to warm up now? Does she want to keep her opponents from getting an early read on her? Whatever the reason for the change, she wasn’t a sluggish player anymore.

“At the end,” Venus said, “the goal is to be at the net shaking hands the winner. So however you get that done is usually how you get it done.”

In other words, she’s been around too long to worry about style points.

Until the match is over, of course. After beating Suarez Navarro, Venus gave the No. 1 Court fans her customary twirl, and they responded with a standing ovation. There are few better, or more surprising, sights in sports than the moment when Venus wins a match: Down goes the stony competitor’s facade; up goes the little kid’s smile of happiness. At 36, she still can’t get enough of living out the Wimbledon dreams she and her sister had as kids on a cracked court in Compton, Calif., kids that nobody would have picked. The desire to experience that winning feeling again is, as she says, infinite, and what keeps her young.

Or, as Venus put it in her own witty and wise way today:

“It’s such an honor to do this job, because I love it. And I get to work outside, and what can beat that?”