Wimbledon 2016: Imperious Serena Williams to face Kerber not Venus in final

Serena Williams will face Angelique Kerber in the women's singles final at Wimbledon 2016

They come from a remarkable family named Williams, but such is their world-wide renown, enormous talent and—it must be said—longevity, that they are universally recognised by just their given names: Serena and Venus.

Between them, 34-year-old Serena and 36-year-old Venus Williams have won Wimbledon 11 times separately and five times together, but this year, seeded No1 and No8 respectively, they continued to seek more.

To such an extent do they want more, so much do they still enjoy playing, such pleasure do they take in being together, that they not only reached the singles semi-finals but would later attempt to reach the semis in doubles too.

Their statistics, of course, are remarkable, but as they each competed for a place in what had already been dubbed ‘the dream final’—perhaps in hope rather than expectation—it was just as much their back-stories that captivated.

Serena was appearing at Wimbledon for the 17th time, had won six times and was defending champion. Venus was in an astonishing 19th Wimbledon, her 71st overall, both records among active players. She had won five times, and been runner-up three more times—to her sister.

Now this was the 11th time the two sisters had reached the semis of the same Grand Slam. In the Open era, this was the first time two players aged over 34 have reached the last four at the same Major—and should both reach the final, they would be part of the oldest final in the Open era.

But if they should both win their semis, the story was still more remarkable. It would set their seventh meeting at the All England Club, but their fifth in a title match. The first match here, in the semis, was in 2000, a win for Venus. Their first title match was in 2002, a victory for Serena—which she repeated the next year. Venus would score her only victory over her sister in a final in 2008: Serena reclaimed the famous Venus Rosewater Dish the next summer.

Then there were the personal stories. Venus had battled with the debilitating Sjögren’s Syndrome since 2011, which many thought would be career-ending after she dropped from the top 100. But here she was, newly back in the top 10 and sure to make No7, her highest ranking in over five years.

Serena’s battle to win her record-equalling 22nd Major had become headline news. Her exhausting campaign during 2015 ended after losing the US Open final, and when she did return to try again at the Australian Open this year, she again lost in the final—and as luck would have it, against the woman who would now deny the Serena-and-Venus final. World No4 Angelique Kerber played Venus in the second semi.

Because before this intense Williams relationship could be replayed on Centre Court, there was the small question of semi-final opponents.

The first to try her luck was Russian Elena Vesnina, ranked 50 and aiming to become the lowest ranked Wimbledon finalist in the Open era.

But the doubles specialist, who has won two Grand Slam titles with the woman she beat here in the fourth round, Ekaterina Makarova, was outside the top 100 earlier this year, playing qualifying rounds from Doha in February through to the pre-French Open tournaments.

Her forward-moving game, though, clearly came into its own on grass and she beat No32 seed Andrea Petkovic and No19 seed Dominika Cibulkova en route to this surprise semi. After 41 Grand Slams, she was past the fourth round for the first time and playing one of the greatest players ever to hold a racket.

“That’s a dream semi-final. I think nothing can be better than playing against Serena in a semi-final on Centre Court at Wimbledon. I am very surprised. It was like a dream came true.”

She added:

“You have to use your chances against Serena. If she’s giving you chances, you need to be there.”

Unfortunately for Vesnina, Williams was not in the mood to give chances. She had upped her level with every round, looking more focused, more intense, and supremely confident.

Williams admitted: “It’s no secret, I’m a very intense player. I’m so passionate at my job… this is what I do, and I love what I do. I woke up since I was three years old to do this. These are the moments that I live for.”

That intensity was writ large in her tennis from the very first point, and she raced to a 4-0 lead before Vesnina resisted another break point to get on the board in the fifth. But Williams was clinical, her serving near perfect—she dropped only three points in 19 on serve—and she held to love, 6-2, in under half an hour.

Centre Court tried to lift Vesnina, though it was not her play that lacked but rather Williams’ relentless power and accuracy at every turn.

The second set would become a near replica of the first as the defending champion raced to 4-0 again in imperious style. In the second game she hit an ace at 123mph, another at 116, in the fourth game she aced at 120mph for a love hold. This time Vesnina could get no foothold at all. By the end of a 20-minute second set, the Russian had won just three points on Williams serve in the match, 6-0.

Williams hit 28 winners to just seven unforced errors, 11 aces for no double faults or break points. Yet she was generous in her assessment of her besieged opponent:

“I was really focused today because we’ve had a lot of tough matches before, and especially on this surface I knew she could really bring it to me, so I was ready.”

Then she added of her sister:

“It would be great [her] because then we’d be guaranteed to have a Williams on the trophy: That’s the ultimate goal for both of us and obviously I want her to do well.”

But that ‘dream final’ was already fading by the time Serena came to press. Kerber, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament, had Venus under pressure from start to finish. After four breaks of serve, she was the first to hold for 4-2. After 37 minutes, she had the first set, 6-4.

She broke first in the second set, too, consolidating for 3-1. A spirited Venus, who looked increasingly tired after spending four more hours on court to get to this match, dug in for a fine love hold of serve for 4-5, but Kerber sealed the win with the rally of the match and a superb cross-court forehand winner, 6-4.

However, it could not be Venus facing Serena, The Championships would surely settle for a replay of Williams’ three-set final against Kerber in Australia.

The German, who admitted afterwards that she is playing perhaps the most confident tennis of her career, was taking nothing for granted about the rematch:

“It’s a completely new tournament, a new surface, everything is completely new. I will just go out with a lot of confidence and give everything I can in the final.”

Serena’s view, with the hint of a smile: “She’s fun to play.”

Whether she will still think that if Kerber denies her that 22nd Major again, having also denied her a sisterly final, only Serena would know.

Footnote: There was a nice compensation for Venus much later this evening as she and Serena reached the semis by beating No4 seeds Vesnina and Makarova, 7-6(1), 4-6, 6-2. The next play No8 seeds Julia Goerges and Karolina Pliskova.

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