Vin­tage Venus set for fi­nal

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — Wim­ble­don still brings out the best in Venus Wil­liams.

With her lat­est dis­play of strong serv­ing and big hit­ting, Wil­liams beat Jo­hanna Konta 6-4, 6-2 on Thurs­day to reach her ninth ti­tle match 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 woman from Bri­tain in 40 years to win the coun­try’s Grand Slam 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 is 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 at the All Eng­land Club. 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. As time went on, there were ques­tions about whether she might re­tire, es­pe­cially after a half-dozen 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 rest 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,’” Wil­liams 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 10th-seeded Amer­i­can will par­tic­i­pate in her sec­ond Grand Slam fi­nal of the sea­son and 16th of her ca­reer, this time against 14th-seeded Gar­bine Mugu­ruza of Spain.

“She knows how to play, es­pe­cially Wim­ble­don fi­nals,” Mugu­ruza, the 2015 Wim­ble­don run­ner-up and 2016 French Open cham­pion, said about Wil­liams. “It’s go­ing to be, like, a his­toric fi­nal again.”

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

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 the semi­fi­nals, it was Konta who had the first chance to nose ahead, a point from serv­ing for the open­ing set when it was 4-4 and Wil­liams was serv­ing down 15-40.

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

Konta fin­ished with more win­ners, 20 to 19, each greeted by roars from the Cen­tre Court spec­ta­tors.

“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. 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.

In the other semi­fi­nal, Mugu­ruza won 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 5-0 lead. Even though Ry­barikova en­tered hav­ing won 18 of her past 19 grass-court matches, Franko Sku­gor, Croa­tia, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 17-15.

MIXED QUAR­TER­FI­NALS

Jamie Mur­ray, Bri­tain, and Martina Hingis (1), Switzer­land, def. Ken Skup­ski and Jo­ce­lyn Rae, Bri­tain, 6-4, 6-4.

Bruno Soares, Brazil, and Elena Ves­nina (2), Rus­sia, def. An­dre Bege­mann, Ger­many, and Ni­cole Melichar, United States, 7-5, 6-4.

Henri Kon­ti­nen, Fin­land, and Heather Wat­son, Bri­tain, def. Ro­han Bopanna, In­dia, and Gabriela Dabrowski (10), Canada, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-5. Marcelo De­mo­liner, Brazil, and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, Spain, def. Mate Pavic, Croa­tia, and Lyud­myla Kichenok, Ukraine, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

mostly at lower-level tour­na­ments, she sud­denly looked a lot more like some­one whose ca­reer record at Wim­ble­don be­fore last week was 2-9.

“Not my best day,” Ry­barikova said. “But she didn’t give me much chance to do some­thing.”

Mugu­ruza won the point on 19 of 25 trips to the net and had a 22-8 edge in win­ners.

That earned Mugu­ruza, 23, a berth in her third ca­reer Grand Slam fi­nal, sec­ond at the All Eng­land Club. She lost to Ser­ena Wil­liams with the ti­tle on the line at Wim­ble­don in 2015, then beat her at Roland Gar­ros last year.

“I’ll have to ask Ser­ena for some point­ers,” Venus Wil­liams said. “Ser­ena’s al­ways in my corner. And usu­ally it’s her in these fi­nals, so I’m try­ing my best to rep­re­sent ‘Wil­liams’ as best as I can.”

Wil­liams

AP/KIRSTY WIG­GLESWORTH

Amer­i­can Venus Wil­liams ad­vanced to the Wim­ble­don fi­nal Thurs­day when she de­feated Bri­tain’s Jo­hanna Konta, 6-4, 6-2. Wil­liams, who lost in the Aus­tralian Open cham­pi­onship ear­lier this year, will face Gar­bine Mugu­ruza of Spain in Satur­day’s fi­nal.

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