London: The summer of 1997 saw Britain hand over Hong Kong to China, “Men in Black” top the movie charts and Harry Potter take his first, faltering steps at Hogwarts.
It was also the year that Venus Williams, just 17 and with white beads in her hair, made her debut at Wimbledon.
Her maiden experience of the tournament was over pretty quickly, a first-round loss at the hands of Poland’s Magdalena Grzybowska.
Fast forward 26 years and the elder stateswoman of tennis is preparing to play at the All England Club for the 24th time at the age of 43.
Five times champion
She has been champion five times — in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008 when she beat sister Serena in the final.
She is also a four-time runner-up, losing to Serena in 2002, 2003 and 2009 and then in 2017 to Spain’s Garbine Muguruza when she was 37.
A former world No 1, but now ranked at 554, Williams insists she has no plans yet to follow Serena into retirement.
She prefers to march to the beat of her own drum.
'Nothing to prove'
“I don’t think anyone in life has anything to prove,” said the American when she last played the tournament in 2021.
“The only thing you have to do is pay your taxes or else you’re going to jail.”
Having played the tournament in four different decades, Williams boasts wins over the likes of fellow Grand Slam standouts Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova — all long retired — on the famous lawns of south-west London.
Her 90-18 win-loss record comes with significant breakout performances.
The 2005 semi-final win over Sharapova avenged Serena’s loss to the Russian teenager in the 2004 final.
Days later, she defeated Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 9-7 in an epic two-hour 45-minute final with Williams saving a match point.
Williams’s 2008 final triumph over Serena was just her second win in seven meetings in a championship decider against her sister at the majors.
“You could never detract from winning Wimbledon, but I’m definitely thinking about how my sister’s feeling,” said Williams after collecting her fifth and last title in London.
Recent visits to any tennis court, however, have been rare for the American.
She was sidelined for six months after injuring her hamstring in Auckland in January.
On her return to the sport earlier this month, she fell to 17-year-old Celine Naef in the first round of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
She then bounced back in Birmingham to defeat Camila Giorgi in a three-hour 17-minute victory.
It was her first triumph over a top 50 player in four years as she became just the third woman this century to win a tour-level match aged 43 or over, joining Martina Navratilova and Kimiko Date.
As she heads to Wimbledon once more, she remains clear-headed over why she keeps playing.
“Three letters is W-I-N. That’s it. Very simple,” she explained.