Venus Williams is arguably one of the most influential and successful tennis players in women’s tennis history. Active on tour even at the age of 41 years, the elder of the Williams sisters has won seven major singles titles and sixteen doubles major titles.
Out of her sixteen doubles titles, two of them came in the mixed doubles category. A mixed-doubles runner-up at the 2016 Olympics, Williams boasts a win rate of 77.8% in this format of the game.
Over the years, the American has partnered with some veteran players on tour in mixed doubles events. But there are a few other names whom you might be surprised to see on the same side of the net as Venus Williams. Let’s take a look at five of Venus Willliams’ most unexpected mixed doubles partners.
Christo van Rensburg
When Venus Williams was 17, she partnered former doubles No.5 and former Top 20 singles player Christo van Rensburg at the 1997 Wimbledon Championships. It was van Rensburg’s final year on tour, whose career was studded with a 1985 Australian Open doubles title and two semifinal appearances each in the doubles and mixed doubles category at Wimbledon and the US Open. He even had singles wins against Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Pat Rafter and John McEnroe. Rensburg is known to be one of two players who managed to defeat Pete Sampras in straight sets at Wimbledon (the other being Richard Krajicek).
At the 1997 Wimbledon Championships, Venus Williams and Christo van Rensburg entered the tournament through a wildcard. They were drawn against the 15th seeded pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rika Hiraki. The wildcard entrants took the first set in a tiebreak but succumbed in the next two sets to the Indo-Japanese pair.
Rensburg later transitioned into coaching, working with Michael Chang and Justin Gimelstob. In 2021, he was named South Africa’s Davis Cup captain.
Justin Gimelstob has been Venus Williams’ most successful mixed doubles partner yet. The duo won the 1998 Australian Open and French Open mixed doubles titles. So why would he be an “unexpected” partner for Venus Williams?
Gimelstob was very close to becoming the next ATP President in recent years. He had a lot of influence in tennis, being a commentator, coach, ATP Board member and the owner of a television production company. There seemed to be nothing that could stop him – except his pattern of violent behavior along with sexist and homophobic remarks.
Beginning in 2008, Gimelstob began a verbal rant about making homophobic remarks in an interview with Out Magazine. The same year, on the DC Radio Show, he made hateful and sexist comments regarding Anna Kournikova, Alize Cornet and Nicole Vaidisova. One of the players who strongly condemned those comments was none other than Venus’ younger sister, Serena Williams.
In 2010, Gimelstob was suspended from the Tennis Channel for making inappropriate comments about the US’s first black President, Barack Obama. Starting in 2016, reports of his violent crimes di lui came into the limelight. Gimelstob’s ex-wife filed a restraining order citing assault and harassment. The following year, in a paddle tennis match, he grabbed his opponent by the throat.
A year hence, he was arrested for felony battery against Randall Kaplan. Gimelstob reportedly punched Kaplan for three minutes straight on his head, ears, cheek and shoulders. A heartbreaking consequence of the event was Kaplan’s wife suffering a miscarriage, who was an eyewitness to the battery. Doctors were convinced that stress from that event catalyzed the miscarriage. Gimelstob was arrested.
Venus, along with Serena Williams, is the owner of the Yetunde Price Resource Center (YPRC), which helps victims of trauma. It is named after their late half-sister, who was murdered in a 2003 shooting. To think that someone like Gimelstob was once a partner of Venus Williams now seems baffling in retrospect
Bahamas’ Mark Knowles is widely regarded as one of the best doubles tennis players in recent times. Knowles’ count of 55 doubles titles included three men’s doubles Slams (each slam except Wimbledon) and one mixed doubles title at Wimbledon. A former doubles World No.1, he had successful partnerships throughout his career with Daniel Nestor and Mahesh Bhupathi.
By 2005, Venus Williams had a tally of 14 slam titles (singles and doubles combined). She entered the mixed doubles event partnering Knowles as the eighth seeded pair. In the third round, their run was halted by the all-Belgian 12th seeded team of Kim Clijsters and Olivier Rochus.
Williams won the singles title at Wimbledon that year. Knowles retired in 2016 and later became the coach of Jack Sock and Milos Raonic. He even worked on the air for the Tennis Channel.
2019 was a memorable season for Frances Tiafoe for two reasons. Firstly, he made the quarterfinals of a slam for the first time at the Australian Open. Second, he got a chance to partner with one of his idols by her growing up, Venus Williams. It was the first time since her 2006 runner-up finish with Bob Bryan at Wimbledon that Williams entered the mixed doubles event at a slam.
Venus Williams and Frances Tiafoe defeated the British pairing of Scott Clayton and Sarah Beth Gray in the first round. They lost in the second round against 12th seeds Franko Skugor and Raluca Olaru. In the singles event that year, both Tiafoe and Williams lost their opening round matches to Fognini and Gauff, respectively.
Nick Kyrgios partnering Venus Williams made the rounds on social media. As revealed by Chris Evert, Kyrgios’ proposal to Venus to partner him in mixed doubles was a pretty short conversation. Right before the tournament, while seated next to her, Kyrgios asked, “Mixed?” Venus replied, “Me? Sure!”
Williams and Kyrgios at the 2021 Wimbledon began with a three-set win against the American team of Austin Krajicek and Sabrina Santamaria. Unfortunately for Kyrgios, after realizing his dream of partnering with one of Williams’ sisters, he had to pull out of the competition due to an abdominal injury. He sustained the injury in the third round of the singles event against Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Since August 2021, Venus Williams has not played any professional matches in either singles or doubles. She lost in the first round of the Chicago Women’s Open against Hsieh Su-Wei