The walking record book that is Venus Williams has added another chapter of achievement to her professional history.
In the 100th singles match of her Wimbledon career, she dismissed the new star of women’s tennis Jelena Ostapenko, who soared to public attention by winning Roland Garros in June. The Latvian No.13 seed, who was 15 days old when 37-year-old Venus made her All England Club debut in 1997, saw her 11-match winning streak at Grand Slams brought to a conclusive halt by the five-time Wimbledon champion.
Under the sheltering roof of Centre Court, Venus won 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 13 minutes, to become the oldest semi-finalist here since Martina Navratilova 23 years ago.
“I love this game,” said Venus afterwards, when asked to explain her longevity not just as a player but a winner. “There’s no other explanation. That’s why I put in the effort and the time. I try really hard. You do your best while you can. That’s what I’m doing. It’s a beautiful game, and it’s been really good to me.
“I love the challenge. I love the constant pressure, although it’s not always easy dealing with it. It’s only yourself who can have the answer for that. I love that the last day you play, you’re still improving. It’s not something that is stagnant. There’s always a reason. You have to get better if you want to stay relevant.”
On paper this first-ever meeting between these two looked more intriguing than an intriguing thing on Intriguing Day on Planet Intrigue. The oldest player to start the women’s draw versus the youngest left in the draw; Venus bidding here for her 50th career title, Ostapenko attempting to make the first two titles of her career back-to-back Grand Slams; Venus on a run of Slam form hotter than any since her salad days of 2002, when she first became world No.1; Ostapenko on course to pierce the top 10 for the first time if she could get past this opponent.
The comparisons stacked up on paper, but in the event Venus made use of that favourite Williams family trait, by once again being a player for the big occasion.
Ostapenko won the toss, and her reward was to find herself on the wrong end of three aces in Williams’ opening game, as Venus announced precisely who was in charge.
The 20-year-old’s extraordinary forehand started doing its stuff, but her second serve was proving too vulnerable for a player returning as well as Venus right now. Williams raced to 3-0, and while Ostapenko found her feet to some degree, those fast Venus returns would broker no argument. The Latvian repelled one set point, but her racket barely brushed Williams’ next delivery.
With Venus on this run of brilliant Grand Slam form, it is worth recalling that when she made the last four here 12 months ago, it was the first time she had reached the semi-finals of a major since the US Open of 2010. That period of lesser achievement was not, of course, because she had somehow become a poorer player, but because she was debilitated by the chronic effects of Sjogrens syndrome, and it can only be guessed what prizes the viral illness cost her.
Come the second chapter in this match, Ostapenko was warming to her task. She held her opening serve with a jaw-dropper of a forehand off what appeared to be a Venus winner, and with rising confidence earned her first break point of the match in the next game. That step forward mattered when it turned out to be Ostapenko who was broken for 1-2, because it gave her a platform to believe that she could level. She duly did so for 3-3, helped by a double fault from Venus on break point.
The momentum seemed to be with the youngster, but Williams was displaying that signature quality of emotional stillness – quite different to, say, Karolina Pliskova’s brand of poker face, and of course the polar opposite of sister Serena’s visceral roars. That dangerous calm concealed the old competitive fires still burning, and she forced Ostapenko into a string of errors to break for 6-5. It was fitting that she served out the match to love.
What was it the No.10 seed said after her fourth round win? Ah yes: “Winning never gets old at any stage of your career.” She knows a thing or two, that Venus Williams.
Source: Kate Battersby| Wimbledon