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After tough start, Venus ends Olympics with more hardware

RIO DE JANEIRO — Venus Williams won't reveal where she keeps her Olympic medals. "It's always my secret," she says. But underwear drawer or trophy room, the five of them — four gold, one silver — is a total that signifies something only one other player has ever done. More so, it highlights the longevity that has characterized Williams' career.

The only other player to win as many medals as Williams was Great Britain's Kitty McKane, who did it over two Olympics in 1920 and 1924. It should also be noted that when the 36-year-old Williams, who first struck gold at the 2000 Games, was asked Sunday whether she might consider the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she did not spit out her water.

"God willing, I imagine if I really want to be there, I could," said the five-time Olympian. "Tokyo is about if I really want to be there, and if I want to continue to work this hard. It's a lot of hard work, and I will want to have to do the work. So we'll see."

Williams and her partner in the Rio event, Rajeev Ram, certainly did the work Sunday, despite losing the gold-medal mixed-doubles match to fellow Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock, 6-7 (3), 6-1, (10-7), the latter score a 10-point tiebreaker, which is used in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments.

Venus Williams won her fifth medal, tied for the most by any player ever in the Olympics. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Williams came into the tournament with a virus and lost in the first round of singles and doubles with sister Serena. Ram was summoned to join Venus just a few days before opening ceremonies, when defending men's doubles gold medalists Bob and Mike Bryan withdrew.

"It wasn't a tough choice to come to Rio," said Ram, who had to skip the Atlanta Open. "No, the Olympics is something that only comes around every four years, and Atlanta comes around a lot. I was happy to skip that one."

Ram, 32, who has known Venus throughout their careers and is coming off a Wimbledon semifinal finish in doubles, was happy to stick around Rio after losing with partner Brian Baker in men's doubles in the second round. Venus was equally as delighted to help the first-time Olympian win a silver medal.

"It's been an amazing partnership," she said. "We really couldn't have asked for more. I mean we played a real good match. We faced a lot of great opponents. It's nice to be sitting right here with him."

It was the second one-two finish in this event for the U.S. since 1924, when Hazel Wightman and Richard Williams defeated Marion Jessup and Vincent Richards.

Mattek-Sands, like Sock, is a first-time Olympian. She talked about the "goosebumps" she experienced while waiting in the tunnel for the opening ceremonies to begin when the Americans began a "USA, USA" chant.

"We are with the greatest athletes representing your country," said Mattek Sands, a four-time Grand Slam titlist in doubles and mixed. "It didn't matter if it was long-distance running, swimming, track or tennis, everyone was there chanting 'USA!' You can't compare any Grand Slam to that. … I don't think it's even comparable."

Sock came to Rio with a case of walking pneumonia. But before striking gold Sunday, he and Steve Johnson won bronze in men's doubles.

"There's just something about being part of a team," Sock said. "Tennis is such an individual sport, and the feeling that you get here is like no other."

At 23, Sock was the only one of the finals participants who couldn't remember Venus' earliest days on tour, but he did grow up watching her and received a few lessons Sunday.

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"To be across the net from her was an incredible experience," Sock said. "I thought my forehand was good before today. Some guys usually get intimidated by my forehand. And she was stepping up and smashing it with her backhand. So I'm ready to go back to the practice court and work on some things."

As for Venus, she can take a good amount of solace knowing how her Rio campaign ended.

"It's been an amazing experience, five Olympics for me," said Venus, who will move on to the US Open with a No. 6 world ranking in singles, her highest since early 2011. "It's surreal that I even came out with any hardware at all. It's so well-contested here, every single one.

"All I can say is that it's been beyond my dreams," she said. "There is so much pressure, and when you can cross the line in any sort of way, it feels great."

All those ruling out Tokyo 2020 might want to think again.

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