Friday 15 December 2017

Venus rises to eclipse her young pretenders

Venus Williams returns a shot against Jelena Ostapenko during yesterday’s Wimbledon quarter-final. Photo: Getty Images
Venus Williams returns a shot against Jelena Ostapenko during yesterday’s Wimbledon quarter-final. Photo: Getty Images

Daniel Schofield

Age continues to prove no barrier for Venus Williams and neither did Jelena Ostapenko who was dispatched 6-3, 7-5 with brutal efficiency in 73 minutes to set up a mouthwatering semi-final clash against Britain's Johanna Konta.

Ostapenko arrived on Centre Court possessing a reputation for sheer fearlessness, a harder forehand than Andy Murray as well as an 11-match winning run in Grand Slam tournaments which included her triumph as an unseeded player at the French Open.

Facing her was a 37-year-old competing in her 100th singles match at Wimbledon where she made her debut in the same month that Ostapenko was born in 1997.

As such, Williams is well versed in dealing with the impetuousness of youth.

All her opponents at Wimbledon have been 21 or younger. All have failed to conquer Mount Venus.

The American's trusty first serve, still as formidable as it was 20 years ago, effectively put paid to Ostapenko's challenge.

Oldest

Williams is now the oldest player to reach a Wimbledon semi-final since Martina Navratilova 23 years ago.

In the context of her battle with Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease, and the distraction of an impending lawsuit over her involvement in the death of a 78-year-old in a car crash, that is all the more impressive.

The secret to such longevity and single-minded focus is, she believes, simply love.

"I love the challenge," Williams said. "I love pressure. It's not always easy dealing with the pressure. 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.

"I don't think about the definition of age. It's beautiful to be at all ages really. That's my experience so far.

"I feel quite capable, to be honest, and powerful. So whatever age that is, as long as I feel like that, then I know that I can contend for titles every time I play."

This would be the 50th singles title of a storied career - and her first Grand Slam in nine years - which would also make her the oldest Wimbledon champion since Charlotte Cooper Sterry in 1908. Few would bet against her.

Ostapenko, whose forehand clocked an average higher speed than Murray's at the French Open, dominated nearly all their back-court exchanges. Williams hit just two baseline winners compared to Ostapenko's 16.

Williams, however, knocked the stuffing out of the first Latvian Grand Slam winner with her first serve and then preyed mercilessly on Ostapenko's timid second serve. What the strategy lacked in subtlety it made up for in effectiveness. An opening-serve ace of 111mph was a statement of intent before breaking Ostapenko at the first attempt to wrap up the first set inside half an hour.

Having been initially overawed, Ostapenko grew into the second set, exchanging breaks with Williams as she started unleashing her fearsome forehand.

Yet Williams simply shut the door on her hopes of a comeback, breaking her for the third time at 5-5 and serving out to love.

Konta, meanwhile, became the first British player to reach the women's singles semi-finals since Virginia Wade in 1978 by beating Simona Halep.

Konta was two points away from defeat in the second-set tie-break but fought back to win 6-7 (2/7), 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, in the process denying Halep the world number one ranking.

The other semi-final will pit 2016 French Open champion Garbine Muguruza against surprise package Magdalena Rybarikova.

Muguruza moved one step closer to winning her second grand slam title by beating Svetlana Kuznetsova. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Wimbledon,

Live, BBC/eir Sport 1, from 11.30

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