Re­vi­tal­ized Venus rolls back years

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — When she looks back on her ca­reer, Jo­hanna Konta hopes that this year’s Wim­ble­don tour­na­ment won’t be the high­light.

Konta, who was try­ing to be­come the first Bri­tish woman to win the grass-court Grand Slam since Vir­ginia Wade in 1977, lost to five-time cham­pion Venus Wil­liams 6-4, 6-2 on Thurs­day.

“Well, in years to come, hope­fully I’ve gone fur­ther, as well,” the 26-year-old Konta said af­ter the loss. “How about we talk about that in years to come?”

Konta’s run to the semi­fi­nals, which saw her come through a tough sec­ond-round match against Donna Ve­kic be­fore beat­ing sec­ond-seeded Si­mona Halep in the quar­ter­fi­nals, will el­e­vate her into the top five of the world rank­ings for the first time on Mon­day.

The Aus­tralia-born Konta has been in the semi­fi­nals of a ma­jor tour­na­ment be­fore — at last year’s Aus­tralian Open. She fol­lowed that by reach­ing the fourth round at the US Open and then made the quar­ter­fi­nals in Mel­bourne at the start of 2017.

Her record at the All Eng­land Club — with only one win in five ap­pear­ances be­fore this year — has now im­proved dra­mat­i­cally. What’s more, the Bri­tish pub­lic is em­brac­ing her like it did when Andy Mur­ray first started to go deep into the Wim­ble­don tour­na­ment about a decade ago.

“Konta-ma­nia. I didn’t hear that be­fore,” she said when told about fans wear­ing T-shirts bear­ing her name. “Well, I guess it’s just in­cred­i­bly hum­bling.

“It’s some­thing that is greater than me and ob­vi­ously just my fo­cus on my match and my per­for­mance, and try­ing to im­prove. It does bring it slightly out of con­text and, I guess, makes me re­al­ize how spe­cial that is and how much peo­ple do en­joy be­ing a part of my jour­ney.”

On Cen­tre Court against Wil­liams, though, Konta faced a player that was sim­ply too good. The 37-year-old Amer­i­can broke in the fi­nal game of the first set and took her third break in the fi­nal game of the match.

“In terms of how com­fort­able I felt out there and how fo­cused I was on what I wanted to try and achieve out there, I felt re­ally com­fort­able,” Konta said. “I felt good in that. In terms of that, I’m def­i­nitely happy with how I dealt with to­day.”

How­ever, Wil­liams’ vast big­match ex­pe­ri­ence told in the end. She reached her ninth fi­nal at the All Eng­land Club, and will face 2015 run­ner-up Gar­bine Muguruza, of Spain, on Satur­day for a shot at a sixth ti­tle.

Wil­liams reck­ons Konta, though, will get more chances.

“She played an amaz­ing tour­na­ment. She showed a lot of courage, played in tough sit­u­a­tions against play­ers who were in form,” Wil­liams said. “I feel like she wants these ma­jors, she’ ll have an op­por­tu­nity.”

LON­DON — All these years later, Wim­ble­don still brings out the best in Venus Wil­liams.

With her lat­est dis­play of gutsy serv­ing and big hit­ting, Wil­liams beat Jo­hanna Konta 6-4, 6-2 on Thurs­day to reach her ninth fi­nal at the All Eng­land Club and first since 2009.

At 37, Wil­liams is the old­est Wim­ble­don fi­nal­ist since Martina Navratilova was the 1994 run­ner-up at that age.

Wil­liams also stopped Konta’s bid to be­come the first Bri­tish woman in 40 years to win the tour­na­ment.

“I couldn’t have asked for more, but I’ ll ask for a lit­tle more. One more win would be amaz­ing,” Wil­liams said. “It won’t be a given, but I’m go­ing to give it my all.”

She will be seek­ing her sixth Wim­ble­don cham­pi­onship and eighth Grand Slam singles tro­phy over­all. Her most re­cent came in 2008, when she de­feated her younger sis­ter, Ser­ena, for the ti­tle in south­west Lon­don. A year later, she lost the fi­nal to Ser­ena.

In the time since, Wil­liams re­vealed that she was di­ag­nosed with Sjo­gren’s syn­drome, which can sap en­ergy and cause joint pain.

There were ques­tions about whether she might re­tire, es­pe­cially af­ter a half­dozen first-round losses at ma­jor tour­na­ments. But she kept on go­ing, and lately has re­turned to win­ning.

Her resur­gence be­gan in earnest at Wim­ble­don a year ago, when she made it to the semi­fi­nals. Then, at the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary, Wil­liams reached the fi­nal, where she lost to her sis­ter. Ser­ena is off the tour for the re­main­der of this year be­cause she is preg­nant.

“I missed her so much be­fore this match. And I was like, ‘I just wish she was here.’ And I was like, ‘I wish she could do this for me,’” Venus said with a laugh. “And I was like, ‘No, this time you have to do it for your­self.’ So here we are.”

On Satur­day, the 10thseeded Amer­i­can will par­tic­i­pate in her sec­ond Grand Slam fi­nal of the sea­son, and 16th of her ca­reer, this time against 14 th-seeded Spa­niard Gar­bine Muguruza, the 2015 Wim­ble­don run­ner-up and 2016 French Open cham­pion.

“She knows how to play, es­pe­cially Wim­ble­don fi­nals,” Muguruza said about Wil­liams. “It’s go­ing to be, like, a his­toric fi­nal again.”

Muguruza over­whelmed 87 th-ranked Mag­dalena Ry­barikova of Slo­vakia 6-1, 6-1 in the first semi­fi­nal on Thurs­day.

Wil­liams ar­rived in Eng­land a few weeks af­ter be­ing in­volved in a two-car ac­ci­dent in Florida; not long after­ward, a pas­sen­ger in the other ve­hi­cle died. At her ini­tial news con­fer­ence at Wim­ble­don, a tear­ful Wil­liams briefly left the room to com­pose her­self af­ter be­ing asked about the crash.

She has tried, coach David Witt said, to “just fo­cus on the ten­nis”.

In Thurs­day’s sec­ond semi­fi­nal, Konta had the first chance to nose ahead — a point from serv­ing from the open­ing set when it was 4-4 and Wil­liams was serv­ing and down 15-40.

Wil­liams erased the first break point with a back­hand win­ner down the line, and the sec­ond with a 106 mph (171 kph) sec­ond serve that went right at Konta’s body.

It was a risky strat­egy, go­ing for so much pace on a sec­ond serve, but it worked. That opened a run in which Wil­liams won 12 of 13 points.

“She looks to dic­tate from the very first ball,” Konta said. “When she puts her­self in a po­si­tion to do that, she plays with a lot of depth, a lot of speed, and you don’t get much of a chance to get your, I guess, grip into the points.”

Wil­liams wouldn’t face an­other break point and, in the sec­ond set, pro­duced an­other im­pres­sive sec­ond serve — at 103 mph (166 kph), it went right at Konta, who jumped out of the way.

Konta played well, es­pe­cially early on, and fin­ished with more win­ners, 20 to 19, each greeted by roars from the Cen­tre Court crowd.

“They could have re­ally been even more bois­ter­ous. I thought the crowd was so fair. And I know that they love Jo, and she gave it her all to­day,” Wil­liams said.

“It’s a lot of pres­sure. I thought she han­dled it well. I think my ex­pe­ri­ence just helped a lot.”

This was her 10th semi­fi­nal in 20 Wim­ble­don ap­pear­ances; Konta had never been past the sec­ond round at the grass-court tour­na­ment be­fore this year.

TONY O’BRIEN / REUTERS

Venus Wil­liams

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