Wimbledon: Age still just a number for Venus Williams

Five-time Wimbledon champion will meet Johanna Konta in Thursday’s semi-finals

 Venus Williams returns against Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko during their women’s singles quarter-final. Photograph: Getty Images

Venus Williams returns against Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko during their women’s singles quarter-final. Photograph: Getty Images

 

At about 1.10pm on June 9th, Venus Williams drove her 2010 Toyota Sequoia SUV at 5mph into an intersection, when a Hyundai Accent, driven by 68-year-old Esther Linda Barson, drove through a green light and hit the passenger side of Williams’ car.

The crash caused serious injuries to Barson’s passenger, 78-year-old Jerome Barson, who was hospitalised with severed main arteries. He would die two weeks later. Linda Barson also suffered significant injuries, including a cracked sternum and a broken wrist. Williams avoided injury.

On July 4th Williams broke down in tears at a Wimbledon press conference when asked about it. By July 7th the Palm Beach Gardens (Florida) Police Department, who initially blamed Williams, reversed its original conclusion and said she had lawfully entered the intersection where the accident occurred.

It has been quite a few weeks for the 37-year-old, who faces Johanna Konta in her ninth Wimbledon semi-final.

The five-time winner has been sailing under the radar and in her last three matches wiped the eyes of players just older than half her age, ending the stunning unbeaten run of Jelena Ostapenko to become the oldest women’s semi-finalist here since Martina Navratilova in 1994.

Perspective

Perspective is important. Clearly age has been the least of Williams’ problems.

The American, who began playing Wimbledon as a teenager in 1997, has defeated three women - Ostapenko, Ana Konjuh and Naomi Osaka - who were all born in 1997.

“Winning never gets old. I feel quite capable, to be honest, and very powerful. I don’t think about the definition of age. It’s beautiful to be at all ages really. That’s my experience so far,” said Williams in case anyone would think a run to the last four would take the edge of her hunger.

“I love the challenge. I love pressure. It’s not always easy dealing with the pressure,” she added. There’s constant pressure. It’s only yourself who can have the answer for that.

“I love the last day you play, you’re still improving. It’s not something that is stagnant. There’s always a reason. You have to get better. I love that.”

What Williams discovered against Ostapenko, particularly, is that her serving is grooved. It got her out of trouble against the hard hitting Latvian more than once.

Battle hardened

Konta, in her second Slam semi-final, will not hit as hard as Ostapenko. Nobody does. But the British player has a determination and battle hardened mindset. She has understated but steely belief in her ability, quite un-British, and Williams knows that will be difficult to crack.

Johanna Konta: “It’s actually more now that I fully understand the weight of what Venus and her sister have given our sport.” Photograph: EPA
Johanna Konta: “It’s actually more now that I fully understand the weight of what Venus and her sister have given our sport.” Photograph: EPA

Konta’s charm offensive also seemed reflective and genuine.

“I think more as I’ve gotten older and actually played against her, played against my fellow competitors, that I actually have more and more respect for and more and more awareness for their achievements, and for what they’ve done for the sport.

“It’s actually more now that I fully understand the weight of what Venus and her sister have given our sport. I think my appreciation for them, I guess, gets bigger now.”

Magdalena Rybarikova. Few but devoted tennis fans will have heard of her. The Slovakian player faces Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, a former French Open champion.

Rybarikova is ranked 87th in the world, has never been past the second round of a Grand Slam and is the lowest ranked player in the semi-final for nine years.

Wonder

There was more than a sense of wonder in her voice after seamlessly beating USA’s Coco Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-3 to set up the meeting.

“My rehabilitation paid off - it’s incredible. I could not imagine I could play like this, I was very focused. [he] next opponent will be tough but I have beaten her before,” she said.

Favourite tournament. Favourite surface, she will move Muguruza from the baseline, make her run in and out. A big hitting back court game will favour the powerful Spaniard.

Smiling and open and grateful for a career after injury last year threatened to bring it to a premature end, Rybarikova’s cheery manner belies a savage competitive backbone.

“I play a lot of slice,” she said. Good. “I’m trying to approach net.” Good. “And I think I’m quite skilful. Many times you have bad bounces on grass. So I’m fast to react.” Good.

Styles make matches. In both semi-finals, there is that.

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