LONDON — Venus Williams nearly broke a record Saturday to become the oldest women's Grand Slam winner in the Open era, but lost her chance to clinch a sixth Wimbledon title to Spain's Garbiñe Muguruza.
The 37-year-old American tennis star's comeback to try and reclaim the top spot at the prestigious event follows a tumultuous month in which she was involved in a fatal car crash in Florida. Muguruza, 23, won in straight sets: 7-5, 6-0.
"I tried my best to do the same things you do," Williams later said in a message to her pregnant younger sister Serena Williams, who was absent from play this year at the All England Club. "I think there'll be other opportunities, I do."
Williams hadn't won a Wimbledon championship since 2008, when she defeated her sister. She was also going for her eighth Grand Slam singles trophy overall.
Her loss follows a difficult few weeks for the 10th-seeded American, who was involved in a car crash on June 9 near her home in Palm Beach Gardens.
See photos from the final:
A passenger in the other vehicle, 78-year-old Jerome Barson, was rushed to the hospital, but died from his injuries 13 days later.
Barson's estate has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Williams seeking unspecified damages. Linda Barson, 68, who was driving the car, suffered numerous fractures to her arm.
It was later determined by police that Williams legally entered the intersection, but was cut off by another car — setting off a chain of events that led to the fatal crash with the Barsons.
When asked about the incident at a press conference at Wimbledon last week, the veteran player burst into tears and briefly left the room to compose herself.
In a message posted on her Facebook last month, Williams wrote: "I am devastated and heartbroken by this accident. My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Jerome Barson and I continue to keep them in my thoughts and prayers."
Williams remained focused during the tournament. In the first women's final played under the Centre Court roof, a high-quality first set gradually built toward a captivating conclusion.
In the first set, Muguruza saved two set points in the 10th game, the first a 19-stroke rally that ended when Williams netted a forehand. The Spaniard broke in the following game when another lung-bursting rally ended on a forehand error from the American.
See photos of Venus Williams:
Eventually, the sequence of play seemed to affect the resolve of Williams — who was trying to become the oldest woman to win Wimbledon in 109 years — and lost the second set completely in an equally astonishing turnaround.
"Well-done today, beautiful," Williams later said on court to Muguruza.
The defeat follows a year-long journey for the once-dominant tennis star, who was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2011 and prevented her from competing for several years.
The condition, known as Sjogren's syndrome, can sap energy and cause joint pain. As time passed, many questioned whether Williams might retire, but she kept going and has been on a consistent winning streak over the past year.
The turning point came at Wimbledon last year when she it made it to the semifinals. Then in January, Williams reached the final of the Australian Open, losing to her sister, who was eight weeks pregnant at the time.
This year, Williams avoided a contest with Serena, who is taking a hiatus from the sport while pregnant.