This has been a brutal season for two icons of golf and tennis – Tiger Woods and Serena Williams.
They are two of the best, maybe the best, to ever play their sports and it has been a privilege to watch them perform. But time marches on. Injuries happen and eventually, it becomes impossible to reach back for one more glorious moment.
Woods and Williams learned that lesson in two events they once dominated – the Masters and Wimbledon.
Woods was nearly killed in a devastating car crash and there was a time when surgeons considered amputating his right leg. Somehow, he came through that horrible event and this spring he showed up at Augusta National, home of the Masters.
This is a tournament he won five times, a course he is so familiar and comfortable with that he probably can play it in his sleep. He somehow made the cut, limping through 18 holes each day. The grind caught up with him though and he finished in 47th place, 13 over par and 23 shots behind winner Scottie Scheffler.
It was painful to see this great player reduced to also-ran status in an event he once dominated. Age and injuries do that, though.
It was very much the same when Williams returned to the All-England Club for Wimbledon. Her game had flourished on the grass courts in the heart of London where she took home the champions trophy seven times. That was then. This is now.
Playing an anonymous French player named Harmony Tan, Williams occasionally flashed the brilliance that had captured 23 Grand Slam events. The blistering serve, the brilliant footwork, her placement of shots, were all on display but far too infrequently.
She is 40, now, coming off 11 months away from the game after tearing her hamstring in the first match at Wimbledon a year ago. It showed, especially in those moments when she paused between points and leaned on her racket to catch her breath. Williams came close to winning her first round match but lost in a third-set tiebreaker in a match that lasted more than three hours.
Woods couldn’t resist playing in the 150th British Open at St. Andrew’s, an event he’s won three times. He failed to make the cut and there’s no telling how many more tournaments his chronic bad back and surgically repaired right leg can still tolerate.
Williams left Wimbledon ranked 1,204th in singles, the residue of not playing for almost a year. She may not be through and talked about the U.S. Open in August.
It’s not easy getting old.