Mats Wilander believes Venus Williams winning Wimbledon would be “one of the biggest sports stories ever”, if not the biggest, the Swedish legend said ahead of Thursday’s semi-finals.
At 37, Williams’ age-defying form continues to boggle the mind as the American is set to contest her third Grand Slam semi-final in her last five majors. If she beats Johanna Konta on Thursday, she will become the oldest Wimbledon finalist since Martina Navratilova in 1994. She’s also bidding to become the oldest Grand Slam champion in the Open Era, besting her sister Serena’s mark of 35 at the 2017 Australian Open.
Williams, who lives with the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s syndrome, was also in the semis at the All England Club last year, but what makes her run this fortnight all the more remarkable is what she had to go through in the build-up to the tournament.
On June 9, the seven-time major champion was involved in a car accident in Florida that led to the death of Jerome Barson, a 79-year-old, who passed away two weeks later from injuries sustained in the crash.
Williams broke into tears during her first press conference at Wimbledon when she was asked about the accident and said she was devastated. Since then, the police have found Williams to have “lawfully” entered the intersection seconds before the crash.
At such a difficult time for her, the No10 seed has somehow managed to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals, and is now two wins away from winning a first Slam since 2008.
“If she wins at 37 after what she’s been through, I mean not only the last few weeks, but with her disease, and then staying afloat while Serena (her sister) has been cleaning up over the last five or six years, that would be an incredible – literally one of the biggest sports stories you could ever experience, if not the biggest. It’s massive,” seven-time Grand Slam champion Wilander told Sport360.
“Konta is most probably at the moment the better player but Venus has the confidence of playing at Wimbledon. It fits her game perfectly.
“It seems that her serve used to be a weapon on all different surfaces but it’s not anymore. It was in Australia, but the courts were really fast. And it seems that here she’s somehow serving better, and would say the reason is that the second serve is more effective here, and her slice serve, the first serve, is more effective here.
“So it looks like she’s calmer, she doesn’t go for too much, but she still gets free points. And then, she has this ability to move on grass, which is not easy when you’re as tall as she is and the court is as slippery as it is, but that has to do with confidence. She can easily win it (Wimbledon), of course.”
Williams can move back into the top five in the rankings for the first time since January 2011 if she wins the title. She has beaten a slew of young stars en route to the semis, two of which weren’t even born yet when she made her Wimbledon debut in 1997.
“At some point it was expected that Venus wasn’t going to be top-50 and we at some point nearly thought ‘well why is she out there still doing this if she’s not… how can she do it if she doesn’t know how she’s going to feel?’ So for her to be able to manage all that, and really what’s happened to her in the last month with the accident is… to overcome all that and win Wimbledon, it’s nearly like the stars are aligning for her,” added Wilander.
The winner of the contest between Williams and Konta will face Garbine Muguruza in the final.
Muguruza, who crushed Magdalena Rybarikova in the semis on Thursday, has found her way back to top form after a 12-month struggle since she won the French Open last year.
The Spaniard, who was runner-up at Wimbledon in 2015, dropped out of the top 10 after inconsistent form, but her strong run this fortnight means she can return to the top five if she wins the title.
After losing in the French Open fourth round last month to Kristina Mladenovic, Muguruza said she was actually happy that the pressure hanging over her during the time she was reigning Roland Garros champion is finally over.
Her strong form at Wimbledon suggests she is liberated from everything that was mentally holding her back.
“Of course,” Wilander agreed. “When you’re not chasing a certain dream, which for her would have been winning a Grand Slam I would think. And you win it, you have to reassess your goals. It has to be heartfelt, it’s not a logical decision, it’s a feeling you.
“And you see that with Andy Murray, and you see that with Novak Djokovic and you see that with Angelique Kerber. They just haven’t found the goal they are chasing next. And the next goal needs to be back to winning matches against the people across the net.
“I think Garbine Muguruza, that’s what she was good at when she was at her best. She took every match as the last match of the tournament and played it as the biggest match of her career. And she did that in the early rounds, and she did it at Wimbledon when she got to the final, and she did at the French.
“I think she’s found it again, and she obviously likes grass. In many ways I would say that Garbine Muguruza is the favourite to win the title.”
Each of the four Wimbledon semi-finalists has an incredible story-line around her.
From the experienced veteran excelling at 37 amid incredibly difficult circumstances, to the home favourite carrying British hopes on her shoulder, to the surprise dark horse, who was competing at an ITF event last month, to the former runner-up looking to make the most of a second chance.
Every one of Venus Williams, Johanna Konta, Magdalena Rybarikova or Garbine Muguruza would be a Wimbledon champion the tennis world would happily get behind.
Here’s a closer look at the numbers behind each semi-final match-up.
– At 37 years and 29 days, Venus is bidding to become the oldest Wimbledon finalist since Martina Navratilova in 1994.
– Venus is 15-6 in Grand Slam semi-final matches. 7-8 in Grand Slam finals.
– Venus has played exactly 100 Wimbledon main draw matches. She has now matched her sister Serena with 86 main draw match wins at the All England Club, the third-most in the Open Era.
– Venus is gunning for a sixth Wimbledon singles title and eighth Grand Slam trophy.
– Venus is 3-2 against top-10 opposition in 2017.
– At 37, Venus is the fourth oldest woman in history to reach the Wimbledon semis.
– Venus is playing her 75th Grand Slam main draw – an Open Era record.
– Venus could return to the top-five for the first time since January 2011 if she wins the title.
– Konta was ranked 19 in the world entering Wimbledon last year. She is the current world No7.
– Konta is the first British woman to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals since Virginia Wade in 1978.
– Konta is bidding to become the first British woman to reach the Wimbledon final since Wade in 1977.
– Konta has hit the most aces of any female player in the tournament, hitting 28 in her five matches.
– Konta will make her top-five debut after Wimbledon. She will be only the fourth British woman to ever crack the top five.
– Konta is 8-2 against top-20 opponents in 2017.
– Konta had won just one match at Wimbledon prior to this fortnight.
– Muguruza is 2-0 in Grand Slam semi-final matches.
– Of the four semi-finalists, Muguruza has dropped the fewest games (37) en route to the last-four stage.
– Muguruza hasn’t reached a final since she won the French Open 13 months ago.
– Muguruza will return to the top-10 after Wimbledon and could rise to No4 in the world if she wins the title.
– Rybarikova is on a 10-match winning streak, having won the title in Ilkley in the build-up to Wimbledon.
– Rybarikova missed seven months from last year’s Wimbledon, to February 2017, and had surgery on her left wrist and her right knee.
– Rybarikova’s ranking slipped to No453 last March. She’s guaranteed a return to the top-40 on Monday, and could crack the top-20 for the first time if she reaches the final.
– This is Rybarikova’s first Grand Slam semi-final in her 36th major appearance.
– At No87 in the world, Rybarikova is the fourth lowest-ranked woman to reach a Wimbledon semi-final.
– Rybarikova is the first Slovak to reach a Wimbledon semi-final.
– Rybarikova is 2-1 against top-20 players in 2017. Muguruza is 6-5.
– Prior to this fortnight, Rybarikova has never made it past the third round at any Grand Slam.
– Rybarikova has an 18-1 win-loss record on grass this season, including two ITF $100k titles.
Andy Murray does not believe he has played well enough this season “to deserve to stay” in the No1 spot for much longer, the Scot admitted following his five-set defeat to Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
It was just the third time in his last 10 Wimbledon appearances that Murray has failed to reach the semi-finals at the All England Club, as he bid farewell to the tournament with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1 defeat to the 24th-seeded Querrey.
Playing the entire Championships with a sore hip, Murray fought through a difficult fortnight before surrendering to the American. The world No1 has had several tough moments in 2017, and although he won Dubai and reached the Roland Garros semi-finals, his season as a whole has not been up to his standards as he now drops to 25-10 win-loss on the year.
If Novak Djokovic wins the Wimbledon title, the Serb would take back the world No1 ranking from Murray, who had replaced him at the top end of last year.
“It was going to happen at some stage. I don’t think anyone has ever stayed at No1 their whole career. It always comes to an end,” said Murray on Wednesday.
“I haven’t played well enough this year to deserve to stay there for much longer. If it doesn’t happen by the end of this tournament, it will happen by the end of the US Open.
“That’s fine. Obviously I would rather be ranked No1 than 2, 3 or 4. I go away now and try and find a way to get back there. Hopefully I can do that.”
Murray, who won Wimbledon last year and in 2013, came into the tournament with a hip problem, that interrupted his preparation. He seemed visibly in pain towards the end of his match with Querrey.
“The whole tournament I’ve been a little bit sore. But I tried my best right to the end. You know, gave everything I had. I’m proud about that,” said the 30-year-old. “But it’s obviously disappointing to lose at Wimbledon. There’s obviously an opportunity there. So I’m sad that it’s over.”
Querrey upped his serving stats in the final set, and dropped just one point on serve, as he sealed a place in the semi-finals, becoming the first American man to reach that stage at a Grand Slam since Andy Roddick in 2009.
Murray did not think of retiring from the match, despite being in pain.
“I knew I wasn’t going to do any major damage (to my hip) by playing. So obviously wanted to try, if possible, find a way at the end,” said the Brit. “Obviously it wasn’t the case.
“Sam served great. The end of the fourth set and fifth set, felt like he hardly missed any first serves. He was acing me pretty much every time. I wasn’t getting enough power on my serve to put him in any bother there. So he was dictating all of the points.”
The three-time major champion will now go back to the drawing board with his team, and work on returning to full fitness before next month’s US Open.
“Now I’ll sit down with my team and look at the next step, look a little bit longer term. The US Open’s, I don’t know, six, seven weeks away maybe, something like that. You know, sit down with my team tomorrow and come up with a plan for what I have to do next,” he said.
“This year has obviously been frustrating at times. It’s not been the easiest. But, you know, I’ll want to obviously come back and try and compete for majors. Yeah, that’s what I’ll try and do.”