After advancing to his ninth Australian Open final, Novak Djokovic described Williams as “an amazing champion that inspires both male and female athletes around the world” and called what she is doing at her age “extraordinary.”
Djokovic, 33, who will be playing for his 18th Grand Slam singles title Sunday, said: “When you’re chasing big things that are related to the history of the sport, obviously it has a lot of weight, a lot of pressure. And regardless of the amount of years you have played on the tour and the experience that you have, you still feel it on your shoulders.”
Of course, Williams was devastated by the loss, Djokovic added. It’s part of what makes her a champion. “But I think when you see a larger picture for her and who she is and what she stands for on and off the court, I mean, she’s one of the greatest athletes, not just tennis players,” he said. “I’m proud and honored to be playing at the same time she does.”
It is not by chance that in 77 Grand Slam appearances, Williams has withdrawn mid-Slam only twice, both times in the post-motherhood chapter of her career (the French Open in 2018 and 2020). Childbirth has given Williams more faith in her body’s strength and resilience. But no matter how young she feels, her body has absorbed three decades of pounding on the tennis court and one difficult labor.
The long-sleeved, one-legged catsuit that she unveiled at this tournament, while stylish, also served a more important functional role as a compression garment. She continues to deal with circulation issues. There are days, she acknowledged after her 6-3, 6-0 victory against Nina Stojanovic, when her right foot swells and it is so painful that she puts off until the last possible moment slipping on her shoe and tying the laces.
Between the tape job on her swollen right foot and the tape job on her injured left ankle, “I’m basically wearing a cast on both my feet,” Williams said.
The difficulty of standing on the precipice of history, as Williams has for the past four years, is focusing on the here and now under circumstances like those on Thursday, when she was so close to the milestone that she could almost hear her name being carved into the game’s annals.