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By Chris Oddo | Thursday July 13, 2017

 
Venus Williams

Venus Williams played a near-perfect semifinal on Centre Court and ended the hopes of Great Britain's Johanna Konta in straight sets.

Photo Source: Camera Sport

Age is just a number and talent is everlasting—that’s the front-and-center takeaway from anybody who witnessed Venus Williams’ 6-4, 6-2 victory over Great Britain’s Johanna Konta in Thursday’s second women's singles semifinal on Wimbledon's Centre Court.

Williams, now 37 and counted out as a legitimate Grand Slam contender for the better part of the last five years, moves to within one win of becoming the oldest female Grand Slam winner in Open Era history with her victory. She may not take pleasure in proving doubters wrong but she most certainly is, particularly in 2017.

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The American reached the Australian Open final this January, her first major final since 2009, only to fall to her sister Serena in straight sets. At Wimbledon, where she is a five-time champion and now a nine-time finalist, Williams will not have to deal with the difficulties of facing her sister, who is seven months pregnant and back in the States.

Serena’s absence has created an opportunity for all who began the fortnight in the 128-player main draw, and Venus has slipped through that window behind booming serves and a barrage of lethal groundstrokes, dropping just one of 13 sets to take her place alongside Garbiñe Muguruza in the final.


Konta, the first British woman to reach the last four at Wimbledon in 39 years, had hit all the high notes in winning three three-setters in her first five matches at Wimbledon, but she was ultimately outdone by a fiercer, more proactive Williams on this day.

From the moment she swerved nonchalantly to avoid a persistent flying insect before making her first serve of the match (much to the delight of Centre Court patrons), Williams was locked in and switched on. If the interlude with the insect was meant to be a bad omen for Williams, it was a message that fell on deaf ears.

The first set of Konta and Williams’ sixth lifetime meeting was a prolonged feeling-out process with very little gap between the two combatants. Williams held serve with relative ease and pressed Konta on return but was unable to procure a break point in her first four return games. Things escalated quickly and reached a fever pitch with Williams facing two break points in the ninth game. She saved the first with a backhand winner, and on the second, after missing her first serve, put forth what has to be considered the shot of this year's Championships.

If Grand Slams are won by the players who hit clutch shots at crucial junctures, then Williams put herself on the fast track to this title when she tattooed a 106 MPH second serve at Konta’s body that completely handcuffed the British No.1. All Konta could do was back away and wave meekly at the ball, sending it into the bottom of the net.

It was Williams’ fastest second-serve of the match, and if it wasn’t the turning point of the contest it was at the very least a moment to savor, and build on. Williams would win the next two points, break at 15 in the next game, and be off to the races from there.

“I don't know what to say about that [serve],” Williams explained with a smile after the match. “I just want to win the point.”

Konta would later claim that Williams’ clutch serve wasn’t the play that the match hinged upon, but the irrefutable proof is that she won just two of ten games after it occurred.


“I don't necessarily think it was the be-all-end-all,” Konta later told reporters. “But it definitely took my break point chance away. Her being able to do that is why she is a five-time champion here, and why she is the champion that she is.”

In the second set Williams only dropped four points on serve and she continued to dominate the shorter rallies, winning 26 of 43 points that featured four or less strokes.

“I think she did what she does well,” Konta later reflected. “She dictated the match from the very first ball till the very last one. I think she just showed her true qualities and why she's a five-time champion here, just a true champion that she is. It was very difficult for me to get a good foothold in the match.”

After breaking Konta in the fourth game of the second set, Williams kept pushing and earned a match point with Konta serving at 2-5. Konta delayed the inevitable for a touch, saving two match points, but finally yielded on the third when Williams lured her into the net with an angled return then punched a forehand down-the-line winner for the victory.

A muted celebration ensued. It was of a far different character than the twirling, joyous dance that Williams executed after defeating CoCo Vandeweghe to reach the Australian Open final this winter.

Different place, different mindset.

Oddly subdued in press, despite the occasion, Williams was asked what gives by a reporter. Unwilling perhaps to contemplate the poignancy of the moment, or the symbolic nature of being the oldest Wimbledon women's singles finalist in over 20 years, she seemed eager to answer then retreat back into her bubble.

“This is where I want to be,” she said, as if to convince the reporter who had asked her why she didn’t seem enthusiastic about what she had accomplished. “So I'm definitely excited. But it's, like, you know, there's still more to happen. I'm still very focused.”

 

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