Everything about Wimbledon drips of history and tradition. On Tuesday, Venus Williams and Johanna Konta added their own chapters to it.
While the Australian-born Konta became the first British woman to reach the final four since Virginia Wade in 1978, Williams, at 37, became the oldest semifinalist at Wimbledon since Martina Navratilova in 1994. Konta is rising, Venus is rising again.
The summer wasn’t easy on Williams. The American came into Wimbledon after being involved in a car crash, which led to a fatality, and broke down in her post-match press conference on Monday after being probed about it. A wrongful-death lawsuit was filed on her for the accident on 9 June, which led to the death of the 79-year-old Jerome Barson.
“There are really no words to describe, like, how devastating and – yeah. I’m completely speechless," Williams had said. “You can’t prepare for everything,” Williams said. “I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. That’s all I can say about it. That’s what I’ve learned.”
Even as she was cleared of any wrongdoing, an incident like that is bound to leave scars. And Wimbledon, especially the Centre Court, has been her haven.
No longer a girl with beaded hair who would prance around with excitement upon victory, Williams is, and acts like, Wimbledon royalty. Williams, who has won the namesake Venus Rosewater dish five times, is the only Wimbledon champion left in the draw and is the oldest woman in the top-300. This campaign, she has played four players aged 20 or less and reigned over them. Meanwhile, it was her 20th appearance at the Championships and played her 100th match at the Grand Slam on Tuesday.
Her opponent was the newly-minted French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, who turned 20 about a month ago. And while Ostapenko has the habit of blasting past opponents, Williams’ power and precision would not let her. The American started with a 111-mph ace down the T, served 8 aces and made 66 per cent of her first serves to make sure she always stayed ahead in the match. Williams looked neither hurried nor shaken by the effervescence of Ostapenko’s shot-making, and used her own flat groundstrokes to score a 6-3, 7-5 win.
Even though the biggest challenge to her legacy came right at home, from sister Serena who now has the most number of Grand Slam titles in Open era, Williams was struck down with Sjogren's syndrome in 2011.
The illness causes fatigue and joint pain and looked like it would cut her career short. By the end of the year, Williams had slipped out of the top-100. But the American, brought up in the tough ghettos of Compton, California, refused to give in and has patiently pieced her tennis life back together. She re-entered the top-10 last year and made the biggest statement of her comeback by progressing to the finals of this year’s Australian Open.
“I’m not thinking about age,” Williams said after her quarterfinal win. “When you’re out there, all you’re thinking about, all I can control, is myself. So whatever age that is, as long as I feel like that, then I know I can contend for titles every time. I feel quite capable, to be honest, and powerful.”
In her five matches so far, Williams has been imperious.
Meanwhile, her opponent in the Thursday’s semifinal, Konta, has progressed through the draw defiantly. The 26-year-old, born in Sydney and belonging to British, Australian and Hungarian descent found what it is like to be the beating heart of British passion at Wimbledon’s centre stage.
As the roof stayed shut over Centre Court during her quarterfinal encounter against Simona Halep, it was like the country’s tennis fans were trapped in a bubble, where normal etiquettes of polite applause did not apply. Konta was championing their cause, and they cheered her on fervently.
Halep and Konta were involved in an acrimonious Fed Cup tie in Romania in April, which left the Brit in tears and the Romanian captain Ilie Nastase was evicted from the stadium for abusing the visiting players. The memory of that provided a context, but it was the intensity of battle brought by Konta and Halep that whipped them into a frenzy. The two women were gunning for each other with every shot, exchanging heated, pacy, powerful groundstrokes that left no room for subtlety.
As world No 2, Halep had entered the match as a favourite and was defending everything Konta threw at her gustily. But as the match progressed, and Konta really got stuck in the rallies, she ground down the 5’6 Romanian. Konta rattled off 48 winners to win the match 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-4 in 2 hours and 38 minutes of high-quality, breathless tennis.
At match point, Halep dumped a backhand into the net after a fan screamed, but the umpire refused to replay the point much to the disappointment of the Romanian. It was game, set, match Konta. And scenes of unbridled joy played out in the demurest of sports arenas.
“Right now it’s a little bit surreal. I am definitely digesting things a little bit,” the 26-year-old Konta, who has steadily climbed in popularity in her country this year, said. “To be in a semi-final in my home slam and to do that in front of a full centre court is pretty special. They were incredible; I think they were a little over-enthusiastic in parts. When you get a massive crowd of people cheering, making that sort of noise in a stadium, you do get goose bumps.”
Konta will be hoping to ride that wave of support once again when she takes on the cool and collected Williams. “The way Venus and her sister have elevated women’s tennis is truly inspiring. I feel very excited and very humbled to share the court with her,” added Konta. It’s a chance for the Brit to prove that she belongs there with Williams.
Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 14:27 PM