The Ageless Wonder: Seven years later, Venus returns to Wimbledon semifinals

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Williams had last made the Wimbledon semis in 2009, when she lost to Serena in the final. (AP)

LONDON—It had been six years since Venus Williams reached a Wimbledon quarterfinal. Yet her run this year surprised no one, as she took out Yaroslava Shvedova on Tuesday, 7-6 (5), 6-2, to advance to the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time since 2009.

“When you can walk to the net the winner, that’s the goal,” Williams said. “That’s the dream.”

Williams climbed back into the Top 10 last year (she’s now No. 8), a feat that was very quietly achieved under the shadow of her younger sister. She also reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals last year, at the Australian and U.S. Opens.

Serena has figured out that she can do, and say, pretty much anything, often opting to answer questions with “I don’t know” or one-word utterances. But her older sister, Venus, is still as eloquent and regal as ever. Last week, the 36-year-old referred to “infinity” to describe the way she feels on court, and it may become the word of the tournament, or even the year.

“I don't think anyone feels older,” Venus said. “You have this infinity inside of you that feels like you could go forever. That's how I feel on the court. As long as I'm halfway decent [and] can get my racquet on the ball, I think I can make something happen. So far so good.”

How did world No. 96 Shvedova even find herself facing a seven-time Grand Slam champion? The Kazakhstani took out 17th seed Elina Svitolina in the second round, former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki in the third and 28th seed Lucia Safarova on Monday. Though her ranking is low now, the Kazakhstani has been as high as No. 25 (in 2012).

The 28-year-old is no stranger to the second week at the All England Club. She had reached the fourth round of the Championships twice, and has reached two Roland Garros quarterfinals. (In 2010 at Roland Garros, she became the first Kazakhstani to reach a major quarterfinal.)

“For her first quarterfinal [here], to play so well when it’s your first time, there’s so much credit to her,” Williams said.

Shvedova’s experience, on top of her aggressive style that is well-suited for grass, gave Williams a lot of trouble on Tuesday. Shvedova, like Williams, also has a couple of Grand Slam doubles titles under her belt (including Wimbledon in 2010). Her doubles prowess shows in the way she likes to come in and take charge at the net. But Williams loves the net too, and has 11 more doubles majors than Shvedova. The American is also prone to hitting balls out of the air behind the service line, with her huge, signature swing unleashing power.

Williams had her nose out in front for much of the first set, and held for 5-4 to get a chance to close out the set. Shvedova has a very strong serve, though it’s not of Williams’ caliber. Thanks to Williams’ tendency to go too big on her returns, Shvedova got the hold for 5-5. The American then held her nerve, as expected, to go up 6-5, but Shvedova played aggressively, following big serves with bigger forehands to force the tiebreaker.

Williams has already spent more than enough time on court this fortnight. She played a rain-delayed match—that went nearly three hours—against Daria Kasatkina in the third round, and a three-setter in her second round against Greece’s Maria Sakkara. Her first- and fourth-round matches—over Donna Vekic and Carla Suarez Navarro, respectively—both were tight two-setters with first-set tiebreakers.

Shvedova got the early mini-break to go up 5-2. Showing zero fear, the Kazakhstani was making Williams work hard, pushing her around the court and not taking any pace off her forehand. She couldn’t keep it up though, hitting three unforced errors from the baseline to let Williams back in it.

Shvedova then missed yet another forehand long, giving Williams her second set point. Not letting it slip away this time, Williams delivered a huge first serve and forced a final forehand error to seal the set, 7-6 (5). 

“What a tough day on the court,” Williams said. “The first set felt like I had so many opportunities, but then she would play so well. Even in the tiebreaker it seemed like she was going to win it, but somehow I walked out with the set. What a day against an opponent that was on fire.”

The natural tendency for a less experienced player like Shvedova is to have a letdown in the second. Venus, known for her mental toughness over her 22-year career, broke serve to grab the opening game.  

Crafty net play helped Shvedova break right back for 1-1. Unruffled, Williams stepped on the gas and took a 2-1 lead, and that quickly became 5-1. Shvedova managed to slow the roll by getting another game, and then Williams went back on serve with a chance to close it out.

Shvedova let out a smile after saving the first match point, but Williams continued with business as usual. A netted forehand gave Williams the win, 7-6 (5), 6-1, and she finally let out a huge grin of her own.

“Honestly, I felt like [the crowd] enjoyed all the great points, and at the end she got them involved in the last game,” Williams said. “The crowds in Wimbledon want to see a good game; [it’s] so hard to get tickets. I think we gave them that today.”

Venus’ mother, Oracene Williams, bolted from her seat to run over to Centre Court to watch Serena take on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her own quarterfinal.

While Serena’s chase for her 22nd major has stolen the show, Venus’ hunt for an eighth is captivating audiences as well.  

Venus Williams is into her first semifinal since the U.S. Open in 2010. The last time she reached a semifinal at Wimbledon, in 2009, she lost to her sister in the final. She will take on Angelique Kerber in the semifinals. The German leads their head to head 3-2, with Williams winning their last contest at the the 2014 Rogers Cup.

“No matter who’s across the net, you’ve got to figure out a way to get the ball in,” Williams said. “We’ve had a lot of good matches, her and I, but we haven’t played in a while. I would love to be walking toward the final, and progress [was] made today.”

Venus has just one fewer Wimbledon title than her Serena, with five. She won her very first major here in 2000, beating Serena in the final. Though it’s still a little too soon to get too excited, there’s a shot that the sisters will face off again in a Wimbledon final, 16 years later.

“I love playing the game,” Venus said. “I always have. Of course, when you’re winning matches, that makes it that much sweeter. The wins and the losses all lead to this big moment. You can’t always have these big moments unless you’re Serena. Then it happens a lot. But for Venus Williams, this is a big day.”

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