LONDON (Reuters) - When Venus Williams declared on Friday that she had simply run “out of time”, she was referring to her third-round Wimbledon loss to Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens.
But the statement might well be relating to her career.
At 38, she has already made a mockery of her father Richard’s 1990s prediction that his daughter’s career would be done and dusted by the time she turned 25.
But after Friday’s 6-2 6-7(5) 8-6 defeat followed first- round losses at the Australian and French Opens - to Belinda Bencic and Wang Qiang respectively - one cannot help but wonder if the sun is finally setting on one of the most storied careers in tennis.
Whereas going through lean spells is nothing new for Williams, her 2018 struggles seem to be in stark contrast to her joyous runs to the 2017 Australian Open and Wimbledon finals.
Those one-arm raised victory twirls were a welcome sight as she won six successive matches at Melbourne Park, with the only rival denying her that final hurrah being her sister Serena in the final.
Six months later she again raised the possibility of becoming the oldest women’s grand slam champion when she was back contesting a ninth Wimbledon showpiece - only to fall to Spaniard Garbine Muguruza.
But 12 months on and she seems to have lost her on-court mojo.
On Friday, she appeared to be moving in ultra-slow-mo between points during the first set against Bertens.
Her fearsome serve had gone AWOL and the stinging winners were also in short supply as she held serve only once during the one-sided first set.
But a woman who built a career on overcoming every obstacle fate can throw at her — be it a long-term illness or a childhood spent dodging bullets during practice sessions in Compton, California — was determined not to give up her pursuit of a sixth Wimbledon title.
Her game suddenly sparked into life when she stood two points from defeat at 4-5 down in the second set, but having also fought back from one set down in her two previous matches, there was only so much her aging limbs could do and on Friday it simply was not enough to carry her over the finishing line.
When the American had previously gone through such barren phases - there had always seemed to be a plausible explanation.
Between 2012 and 2014, she also failed to clear the third round at any of the majors but that slump coincided with Williams being diagnosed with the autoimmune illness Sjogrens Syndrome - which causes fatigue and muscle and joint pain.
On Friday, Williams’ monosyllabic and contradictory answers during her post-match news conference at Wimbledon seemed to suggest it was not just her body that had had enough.
Did she have any thoughts on what she plans to do next or whether she would be back here next year?
“No,” came back the response.
So will fans get to see her here next year?
“Yeah,” she offered seconds later.
On Friday, no one knew which statement would turn out to be true come Wimbledon 2019.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ed Osmond