Australian Open 2017

Tennis: Veteran Venus living the dream

Venus Williams celebrating after she wound back the clock to down Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) yesterday to make the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the first time since 2003.
Venus Williams celebrating after she wound back the clock to down Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) yesterday to make the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the first time since 2003.PHOTO: REUTERS

Williams sets up all-American semi-final with Vandeweghe, surprise conqueror of Muguruza

MELBOURNE • Age-defying Venus Williams was rolling back the years after making yet another Grand Slam semi-final yesterday, setting up an all-American clash against a rampant Coco Vandeweghe.

The 36-year-old powered past Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) and into her third Australian Open semi-final, while the unseeded Vandeweghe stunned French Open champion Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-0 in a blitz of big hitting.

"What can I say. Just trying to live the dream," Williams said of her longevity, after becoming the oldest woman since a 37-year-old Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon 1994 to make a Grand Slam semi-final.

"I have no exact answer, except I do know how to play tennis, so that's helpful. If you can get the ball in, it's even more helpful."

It is a remarkable feat for Williams, who made her professional debut in 1994 and is enjoying a late-career renaissance following a long battle with a rare autoimmune disorder.

She made the same stage at Wimbledon last year but had not got this far at Melbourne Park since 2003, when she beat Justine Henin only to lose to sister Serena in the final.

Henin is long retired but Serena is still going strong and plays her quarter-final, against Johanna Konta, today, with an all-Williams title match still on the cards.

Venus also made the last four at Melbourne in 2001, losing to then world No. 1 Martina Hingis, another veteran who is playing doubles at this year's Australian Open.

Despite the surprise package Vandeweghe showing imperious form, Williams is brimming with confidence and believes she can go on to win her first Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2008.

"Why shouldn't I? I try to believe. Should I look across the net and believe the person across the net deserves it more?" she said.

"This mentality is not how champions are made. I'd like to be a champion, in particular this year. The mentality I walk on court with is: I deserve this."

The seven-time Grand Slam winner is yet to drop a set in Melbourne and was composed against Pavlyuchenkova, who had knocked out 11th seed Elina Svitolina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded eight, on her way to the quarter-finals.

But Vandeweghe will be a different proposition.

The American, like Williams one of the tallest women on the circuit at 1.85m, is supremely confident and in fine touch, having stunned German world No. 1 Angelique Kerber before upsetting Muguruza.

"I really wasn't feeling great out there. I was nervous... I was second-guessing myself," said the 25-year-old, whose mother was an Olympic swimmer and whose grandfather played basketball for the New York Knicks.

"But I kept the pressure on and she finally cracked. Once I got rolling in the second set it was like a freight train, you couldn't stop it."

It is now Vandeweghe's best performance at a Grand Slam, improving on her quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon in 2015.

The right-hander, ranked 35, has a reputation for inconsistency and she lost seven of her last 10 matches at the end of last year. But she has been in brilliant form so far this year.

She has a booming serve and phenomenal groundstrokes, with a game suited to the fast and hard courts of the Australian Open.

Williams, though, has no intention of being intimidated, particularly by the prospect of meeting sister Serena once again in a Grand Slam final.

"To me, the semi-finals is a stepping stone, just like the other rounds. It's an opportunity to advance," she said.

"The tournament is by no means over."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Veteran Venus living the dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe