LONDON—When Venus and Serena Williams were young and in the early, heady days of their dominance, they used to talk about how they felt as if they took on new personas when they reached the second week of a Grand Slam. Like the born champions they were, they walked and talked—and most important, played—with more confidence the closer they came to the crown.
That was especially true for Venus at Wimbledon. Once she settled in and reached the latter stages of the event, she made Centre Court her second home and personal workspace. She won her first eight semifinals here (Her loss in that round last year was her first.) Only her sister has beaten her in a Wimbledon final. If it wasn’t for Serena, Venus might have eight titles here, and she would be trying to tie Martina Navratilova’s modern record of nine as we speak.
Instead, Williams will have to settle for tying another remarkable Navratilova record: With her concise and convincing 6-3, 7-5 win over Jelena Ostapenko on Tuesday, the 37-year-old American became the oldest player to reach a Wimbledon semifinal since Martina did it on her last-hurrah run to the final in 1994. In her 20th Wimbledon, Venus reached her 10th semi.
Whatever her age, Venus played with her old sense of command on Centre Court on Tuesday. As with Andy Murray, the fast surface and the this-is-serious atmosphere in that arena seem to help her channel her game, to play with a simple, straightforward, self-assured sense of aggression. It starts—and almost ends—with her serve, which gave her a decisive edge over Ostapenko at the start of each rally. Venus had eight aces to Ostapenko’s one; more important, 53 percent of her serves went unreturned, compared to 20 percent for Ostapenko.
No serve was bigger than the one Venus came up with at 4-5, 15-30 in the second set. She had let an early lead in that set slip, and now was just two points from having to play a third. When her toss went up and out to her right, it was easy to see what she was planning to do with the ball: Slide it down the T. Even so, Ostapenko had no chance to catch up to the slice that Venus put smack onto the center service line. Afterward, Venus made it sound as if she were saving her best serves for just this occasion.