Wimbledon 2017: Ageless Venus Williams rolls back years to redefine norms of the game

Johanna Konta had stood up to pretty much everything her opponents have thrown at her at this year’s Wimbledon.

But in the fifth game of the second set, with Venus Williams serving at 15-0, she was forced to back down and barely managed to get out of the way as the American’s second serve whizzed past her at 103mph. The Williams serve, once the fastest in the world at 129 mph recorded at the 2007 US Open, does not quite have the same pace but it is still fast enough to trouble her rivals.

It was a telling factor in Thursday’s semi-final against Konta as well, as Williams raced to 6-4, 6-2 victory in an hour and 13 minutes. The most successful active player at Wimbledon with five titles, Williams returned to a final at the All England Club for the first time since 2009. She had won the last of her Championships in 2008.

Venus Williams has changed the norms of tennis with her exploits at Wimbledon 2017. AFP

Venus Williams has changed the norms of tennis with her exploits at Wimbledon 2017. AFP

2017 has been a season of fairytales in the tennis world. Williams and Konta had scripted their own by making it to the final four: At 37, and living with the Sjogren’s syndrome, Williams is on a mission to regain supremacy, while Konta who was playing her first semi-final on the home turf, was the first British woman since Virginia Wade in 1978 to make it so far. Only one of them was to survive on Thursday, and it had to be Williams who kept extending the gulf in class and experience through the match..

The Centre Court was anticipating a closely-fought contest between their champion and the former champion. The previous semi-final, between Garbine Muguruza and Magdalena Rybarikova, had been ridiculously one-sided with the Spaniard winning it 6-1, 6-1.

Konta, meanwhile, was on a breakthrough. She had never gone past the second round at Wimbledon and her best at all Grand Slams previously was a semi-final finish at the 2016 Australian Open. The Sydney-born player had shown amazing tenacity to come through intense battles against Donna Vekic (10-8 in the third set) in the second round and tough three-setter against world No 2 Simona Halep in the quarterfinal.

It looked like she could trouble Williams, who is 11 years older, with her serve and free-swinging, flat groundstrokes.

The two women went toe-to-toe till 4-4. Neither was giving away much on their serve, nor were they getting bullied by the other from the baseline.

Even though the average speed of Williams’ serve was comparatively less—100 to Konta’s 104—her placement and precision on big points brought her greater dividends. Williams had only one ace to Konta’s seven, but she won 79% of her first serve points and 65% on the second serve, compared to 64% and 33% for Konta respectively.

It is easy to be fooled by Williams’ languid body language between points, but her movement during them remains purposeful. She has the grace and poise for grass. The tall, athletic player has won five titles at Wimbledon not with sheer pace or power, but because of a great feel for the ball and variety. And innate aggression – she refuses to get drawn into slugfests on grass and likes to keep points short and crisp.

Williams was down two break points in the crucial ninth game. Rather than play safe, the American cracked a backhand winner on the first and then went for a 106mph second serve at Konta, one that the Brit failed to bring back into play. On the next point, she moved Konta corner to corner with some big hitting until her younger rival couldn’t keep up anymore. The missed opportunities seemed to play on the home favourite’s mind, as, even though the crowd willed her on, she made three errors to give Williams a 0-40 lead. The American converted on the second and pretty much took over the match.

Going into the match, Konta had a 2-1 head-to-head lead over Williams. But she had never played her on grass. The pace on the American’s shot is accentuated by the surface, and with Williams hitting the ball early and inside the baseline, it was hurrying Konta into errors. The scoreboard pressure, and knowledge that she was on a slippery slope down against the seven-time major champion, meant that Konta was quickly losing steam. Only six of her 20 winners came in the second set. Williams closed out the match, on Konta’s serve, with a forehand pass down the line.

Meanwhile the legendary American, diagnosed with the auto-immune disease in 2011, is now treating every day and every opportunity as a gift. Her way back has been slow, long and persistent but Williams is nearly back on her perch.

“I couldn’t have asked for more but I’ll ask for more. One more win will be amazing,” she said after making it to her ninth Wimbledon final. “It won’t be a given but I’ll give it my all.”

Playing the 20th time at Wimbledon, Williams is redefining the norms of the game as gustily as she did as a wide-eyed, beady-haired teenager in her first year here.

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2017 13:48 PM

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