At an age when her contemporaries have long since retired, Venus Williams says she is playing some of the best tennis of her life, but the Wimbledon finalist isn’t finished yet as she eyes a place in the record books.
Williams is the oldest Wimbledon finalist for 23 years after she over-powered Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-2.
The 37-year-old returns to the All England Club title match after an eight-year absence and will be the oldest Grand Slam champion in the Open era if she beats Spain’s Garbine Muguruza on Saturday.
That would give Venus a sixth Wimbledon title, and eighth Grand Slam crown, nine years after she last lifted the trophy, completing an incredible comeback after she battled an autoimmune disease that left her fatigued and threatened to force her out of tennis.
In the twilight of her career, Venus has hit a rich vein of form over the last 12 months. She was Australian Open runner-up in January to sister Serena, only to have her life thrown into turmoil last month when she was accidently involved in a car crash in Florida that led to the death of an elderly man.
A less strong-willed personality would have gone into hiding, but Venus, after choking back tears when asked about the incident at the start of Wimbledon, has taken solace in her tennis.
“There were definitely some issues. There’s definitely a lot of ups and downs,” Venus said. “I just try to hold my head up high, no matter what is happening in life. In sport especially, you have injuries. You have illnesses.
“You’re not going to be always playing 100 per cent. If I decide to walk out on the court, I try to just compete that day. That’s what I try to do.”
Ominously for Muguruza, who lost the 2015 Wimbledon final to Serena, the American is certain she is close to the form that saw her dominate a decade ago.
“I’ve played some good tennis in different points of my life. I think it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to play well and to be strong,” she said.
“Experience can either work against you or for you. I like to think it’s working for me. This year has been amazing in terms of my play, playing deep into the big events.
“I’m definitely in the position I want to be in. It’s a long two weeks. Now I’m knocking on the door for a title. This is where I want to be.”
Konta had marched onto Centre Court hoping to become the first British woman to reach the final since Virginia Wade in 1977, but the world number seven trudged off 73 minutes later with her dream in tatters
Serving a 106mph second serve on break point at 4-4 in the first set was just one example of the nerveless way Williams shattered Konta’s spirit.
“I don’t know if it was the be all and end all but it took my break point chance away. It showed why she’s a five-time champion,” Konta said. “That was one of the few opportunities I had and she took them away.”
Despite losing for the second time in a Grand Slam semi-final, Konta is convinced her run proves she can win a major one day.
“Quite honestly I think I was in with a shot of winning the tournament. I definitely don’t see why I won’t be a position to win a title like this one,” she said.
Inspired by the soothing words of former champion Conchita Martinez, Wimbledon finalist Muguruza believes she is ready to follow in her fellow Spaniard’s footsteps.
With Martinez in her corner, Muguruza will play Venus in Saturday’s final after crushing Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova 6-1, 6-1 in the last four on Thursday.
Martinez became the only Spanish woman to win Wimbledon when she defeated Martina Navratilova in the 1994 final and now she is back in a key role at the All England Club as Muguruza’s temporary coach. With Sam Sumyk, Muguruza’s regular coach, missing Wimbledon due to his wife’s pregnancy, Martinez offered to assist the 23-year-old.
Their partnership has proved an instant hit as Martinez, who also coaches Spain’s Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams, helped guide Muguruza back to the final two years after she lost to Serena Williams.
“I think she’s helping me to deal with the stress of the tournament, because it’s a long tournament,” Muguruza said of her 45-year-old compatriot. “I’ve been here a while already. So she just knows how to prepare, how to train, what to do.
“Not that I’m doing something different, honestly. But to have her by my side gives me also this little confidence on having someone that has won before.”
Muguruza is the first Spanish woman to reach more than one Wimbledon final since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who lost twice in the 1990s. Fittingly, it is Venus who lies in wait for Muguruza as the American star is the oldest Wimbledon finalist since Navratilova was beaten by Martinez 23 years ago.
Martinez’s calming influence has been ideal for the emotional Muguruza, who also remains in phone contact with Sumyk.
“Conchita and Sam are really working together. They are in contact. Before I do something, they both decided. So that magic is still happening,” said Muguruza. “I think I’m here because I’ve been working not only the last few days, but longer time, getting ready for this kind of moment.
“I think a lot of things are clicking also with her and the team this week, so it’s very nice.”
Since winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open last year, Muguruza had endured something of a sophomore slump as her ranking dropped out of the top 10.
But she has rediscovered her mojo on grass and would climb into the top five if she wins Wimbledon.
To do that, she must emulate Martinez and stop another Williams name being etched onto the trophy.
“All the names that I read on the honours board, I know all of them. For the last years, you see a lot of Williams surname,” she said. “So I look forward to putting a Spanish name back there.”
* Story provided by AFP, video courtesy of wimbledon.com
We’re down to the final four at Wimbledon and Roger Federer finds himself as the last ‘Big Four’ member standing.
This is the first Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2003 where all semi-finalists are ranked outside the top four in the world rankings. Federer is seeded No3 but he is ranked No5 in the world at the moment.
The winner of the semi-final between Marin Cilic and Sam Querrey will top the list for most attempts before reaching the final at Wimbledon in the Open Era, ahead of Pat Rafter, who reached the final on his eighth appearance. Cilic is playing his 11th Wimbledon while Querrey is appearing in his 10th.
Here’s a closer look at all the stats and figures behind Friday’s semi-finals.
– Federer has played 100 matches at Wimbledon, becoming just the second man to do so. He heads the table for the most Wimbledon match wins amongst active players with 89.
– Federer is trying to reach an all-time record-extending 11th Wimbledon final, and a record-extending 29th Grand Slam final.
– Federer is 10-1 win-loss in Wimbledon semi-finals.
– This is the third time Federer has made the Wimbledon semis without dropping a set (2006, 2008, 2017). He has done that nine times at Grand Slams overall.
– Federer is bidding to win a 19th Grand Slam title this fortnight.
– Federer is facing Berdych for a ninth time at a Grand Slam (Federer leads 6-2) and third time at Wimbledon (tied at 1-1).
– Federer, at 35 days and 343 days, is looking to become the second oldest man in the Open Era to reach the Wimbledon final after Ken Rosewall, who was runner-up in 1974 (39 years and 246 days).
– Federer is contesting his 70th Grand Slam event, tying Fabrice Santoro’s record for most appearances at a major.
– Berdych is bidding to reach his second Wimbledon final.
– Berdych is trying to end a seven-match losing streak to Federer. The last time the Czech beat him was in Dubai 2013.
– Berdych could equal Rafael Nadal in fourth place on the list of most match wins at Wimbledon amongst active players if he beats Federer on Friday for a 43rd victory at the All England Club.
– If Berdych wins on Friday, he joins Ivan Lendl as the only Czech men in the Open Era to reach multiple Wimbledon finals.
– Berdych has won his last three matches against top-10 opposition.
– Wimbledon is Berdych’s most successful Slam, and it’s the only one where has made three semi-finals.
– Just one of Berdych’s 13 tour-level singles titles has come on grass – Halle 2007.
– No11 is Berdych’s lowest Wimbledon seeding since 2010.
– Querrey is just the seventh man in the Open Era to win three five-set matches in three consecutive rounds at Wimbledon.
– If Querrey wins on Friday, he would join David Ferrer at the top of the list for most attempts before reaching a Grand Slam final in the Open Era. It is the American’s 42nd Grand Slam appearance.
– Querrey is facing Cilic for a fifth time overall and third time at Wimbledon. He has never beaten the Croat.
– Three of their four previous meetings have gone to a final set.
– Querrey is bidding to become the first American man to reach a Grand Slam final since Andy Roddick at Wimbledon 2009.
– The 28th-ranked Querrey is bidding to become the lowest-ranked Wimbledon finalist since Mark Philippoussis in 2003.
– Querrey is 3-11 win-loss against top-10 players at the majors.
– Cilic has defeated just two players on five occasions without defeat (he’s 5-0 against Robin Haase and Sergiy Stakhovsky).
– Cilic has only ever lost two Grand Slam matches to American opponents (James Blake at 2008 Australian Open, Jack Sock at 2016 US Open).
– Cilic is bidding to become just the second Croatian player – man or woman – to reach the Wimbledon final after Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.
– Cilic had lost in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in his last three appearances before he finally made his first semi this year.
– By defeating Gilles Muller in five sets in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, Cilic improved to 6-4 in five-set matches at Wimbledon. He is 26-12 in five-set matches overall.
– Just one of Cilic’s 17 titles has come on grass (2012 Queen’s when Nalbandian was defaulted for kicking an advertising board that hit a linesman) .
Four boys in the Wimbledon junior tournament have fallen foul of the tournament’s strict all-white clothing policy after showing up on court wearing black and blue underwear.
Top seeded doubles pair Zsombor Piros of Hungary and China’s Wu Yibing were handed white underwear by a courtside official and sent back to the locker room to change.
Piros had blue underwear beneath his white shorts while fellow 17-year-old Wu had opted for black. One of their opponents, Brazil’s Joao Reis da Silva was also sanctioned but he protested, claiming his grey underwear should have been acceptable.
“We changed but the Brazilian guy refused at first because he said grey was OK,” explained Piros. “He was gone for about 30 minutes so it took a long time to start the match.”
Da Silva’s partner Mohammed Ali Bellalouna was the only player with white underwear.
Piros and Wu, the top seeds, won that match on Wednesday. However, sporting their new white underwear, they lost in the second round on Thursday against Sebastian Korda and Nicolas Meija.
“The blue and black shorts were our lucky pants,” said Piros, who had worn his more colourful attire in the early rounds of the singles tournament.
“There were no signs to indicate we were supposed to wear white underwear. I only got caught out because a little bit of blue was showing. Some umpires don’t say anything. Maybe they prefer not to focus on the underwear.”
Piros said the white replacements rustled up by tournament officials were very comfortable.
“They never asked for them back,” he added. “If I come back to play here again, I will remember not to wear blue or green.”
Despite the clothing conundrum, Piros said he wasn’t unhappy at the saga.
“I think it’s kinda funny,” he added.
Later Thursday, Austria’s Jurij Rodionov was also told to change as he had arrived on Court 18 with blue boxer shorts under his white playing gear. First the chair umpire inspected them before a female supervisor also arrived to take a peek at his undergarments.
Rodionov had to retreat to the locker room to change but maintained his composure to defeat Blake Ellis of Australia to reach the quarter-finals.
Wimbledon has clamped down on fashion faux-pas both at this tournament and in the past.
Five-time champion Venus Williams had to change her bra in a rain delay during her first round match last week as the pink straps were visible on her shoulders. The American, however, was reluctant to criticise the decision.
“I don’t want to talk about undergarments,” said the 37-year-old, who reached the final on Thursday. “It’s kind of awkward for me. I’ll leave that to you. You can talk about it with your friends. I’m going to pass.”
Roger Federer has criticised Wimbledon’s all-white rule in the past, saying it was too strict.
“We’re all white. White, white, full-on white. I think it’s very strict,” the Swiss said in 2014, after the all-white policy was updated with more restrictions, including ones related to underwear. “My personal opinion, I think it’s too strict. If you look at the pictures of Edberg, Becker, there was some colours, you know, but it was ‘all white’.”
* Provided by AFP