Even for Williams, one of the greatest athletes ever, there are times in big matches when discomfort affects her game. Despite decades of practice and experience, something about her mechanics throws off her swing or follow-through, and she gets nervous. But she's still Venus Williams, so she doesn’t stay nervous.
"You will [get the ball] in when it comes down to it," she says. "You have to find a way to get it in. There were times when I did not even know if I saw the ball, but I had to get it in, and I did."
Williams recalls a recent, desperate moment like this: The gold medal doubles match at the 2012 Olympics in London. All during the match, her opponents, Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic, were scorching returns. "I'm hitting them hard, like, wait a minute, I didn't even really have time to give my racquet back they were back so fast," Williams recalls.
With her and Serena at double-set-point and the gold medal hanging in the balance, Williams let her serve carry the day.
"I would say three of my biggest serves," she says of the thrilling finale. "I didn't see them. I don't know how they got in, but I had no choice. It means I was so in the moment that I don't even know what happened."