Tennis: Venus Williams revives her glory days with a twirl

Venus Williams celebrates her victory against Coco Vandeweghe during their women's singles semi-final match at Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan 26, 2017.
Venus Williams celebrates her victory against Coco Vandeweghe during their women's singles semi-final match at Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan 26, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE - Of course she twirled on court and then whirled for this was head-spinning business. Giddy stuff. Dizzying tennis. When she won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon 2000, the men's champion was Pete Sampras. When she won the US Open later the year, the champion was Marat Safin.

But Venus Williams is still here. In the Australian Open final.

Of course she twirls.

Her "little" sister is 35. Her opponent today, Coco Vandeweghe, was 25. Her last final here in Melbourne was in 2003, when Andre Agassi won the men's title. You get it, right. This Australian Open is no longer a tennis tournament. It is the site of resurrections. It is the home of revivals.

Venus, 36, lost the first set 6-7 (3-7) and won the second 6-2 and then came the third. She always wears a sun-shade and never a cap. She has a wingspan you usually find with swimmers and has the look of a flightless bird. As she glides to the net on land, above her planes fly in formation on Australia Day. They are prop planes and she is older than even them.

She breaks Vandeweghe in the first game of the third set but can't again. She gets to 0-30 once on Vandeweghe's serve, and then again, but can't find the cushion of a double break. There is an an edginess in the air as she runs, lunges, bends, grunts, hopes, believes. Forget age, says Vandeweghe later, "she's an unbelievable competitor".

 

Third sets are agonising. Every error seems to hurt more. Every chance not taken has a harsher cost. There will be 16 double faults in the match, eight of them in the third set, three of them from Venus. In the second game she will serve two in a row and go down 15-40. She saves them. She saves 12 of 13 break points all match. She saves all nine break points in the second and third sets. We think we know about nerves but we don't. We think we understand desperation but we don't.

Till she wins the third set 6-3 and we see her twirl.

When she played her first Grand Slam event at the 1997 French Open, Roger Federer did not even have a ranking. In September that year the Swiss appeared on the list as 803rd in the world. By 1998 she was great, by 2000 she won a Slam, by 2001 she had four, by 2008 she'd won her last one.

Since 2011, she's lost in the first round of Slams on five occasions. In the second round, five times. In the third round, four times. Injury, illness, so what, she carries on. Quietly she speaks in the press conference later when asked if she thought such days of reaching finals had passed:

"Not at all, not at all."

The press conference is long, 22 questions, but she speaks gently and at times elegantly.

She lost her last final here to Serena and someone asks if she has feelings of revenge.

"These are words I never use."

Someone asks what it would mean to win on Saturday.

"It would be beautiful. It would be beautiful."

Then she is gone. To meet her little sister who has just won her own semi-final. Sister who has a 16-11 head-to-head record against her. Sister who leads her 9-5 in Grand Slams. Sister whom she will want to beat on Saturday.

Sister with whom first she will twirl.