Evergreen Venus Williams keeps creating history, but ends Konta’s dream Wimbledon run
Venus Williams beats Johanna Konta in straight sets to reach the Wimbledon final and end British hopes
The women’s championship at this year’s Wimbledon has, as so often before, become more dramatic with each passing round.
Even when the draw was made two weeks ago, several themes were ready to emerge.
Who would end the tournament as No1 in the world? It could be one of five, then by the second week, one of three, and by the quarter-finals, it was down to Simona Halep to try and seal the deal. She lost a thrilling three-setter, and with it her shot at the top ranking. Instead, it was the absent Karolina Pliskova who debuted at No1.
Could the big-name returners, both former Major champions, upset the applecart? Petra Kvitova, twice a champion at Wimbledon, could not stay away despite a severe injury to her hand six months ago, but she lost in the second round.
Victoria Azarenka, who until a fortnight ago had last played at Roland Garros in 2016, and now had her six-month-old son with her in London, so impressed on her way to the fourth round that she was suddenly in the conversation for the title. The bustling and focused Halep halted her.
Could the absence of the most dominant presence in women’s tennis, the defending champion Serena Williams, open the door for one of the other Major champions or finalists to win ‘a big one’?
Wimbledon finalist and current No1 Angelique Kerber, fell, as did another finalist here, Agnieszka Radwanska. Major champions old and new— Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Ostapenko—made great runs to the quarters but no further.
And what of British hopes, spearheaded by not one but two women this year? The No6 seed Johanna Konta was the great home hope, despite having only won one match at Wimbledon in five previous attempts. And she did not disappoint—but neither did Heather Watson. The former world No38, now outside the top 100, needed a wild card for Wimbledon, but she would beat No19 seed Anastasija Sevastova to reach the third round, before coming up against Azarenka.
But as the 128 channelled down to four, two key themes were strengthening.
First Konta: she impressed with each round, beating tough players who had beaten her on grass before, coming through testing three-setters time and again, the last a battle back from a set down against that aspiring No1 Halep. Along the way, she had become many punters’ hot favourite for the title.
With her run, she was breaking new ground at every turn. She became the first British woman to reach the semis at Wimbledon in 39 years. Should she win the title, it would make her the first women’s British Wimbledon champion in 40 years. She was already expected to reach a new career-high of No5, and with victory would break the top three.
But Konta was about to clash with the woman headlining the other remarkable storyline: Venus Williams. At 37 years old, the five-time former Wimbledon champion, eight times a finalist, reached the semis here last year, too. Then this year, she made the final of the Australian Open, her first Major runner-up trophy since winning right here eight years ago.
Already this week, as the No10 seed, she had notched up a tally of 86 Wimbledon match-wins, 101 altogether, in her 20th Wimbledon appearance—the oldest player to reach the semis here since 1994.
If she should win the title, she could return to the top five, a full six and a half years after she was last there—and before contracting the Sjögren’s Syndrome that almost ended her career entirely.
Her age had come into sharp relief in the opponents she had faced: 21-year-old Elise Mertens, two teenagers in Naomi Osaka and Ana Konjuh, then the 20-year-old new star on the block, French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Konta would be a different kind of test: The Briton had the crowd, the confidence, and the knowledge that she had beaten her childhood idol three times in their five matches, though three of those had gone to three sets, the last won by Williams.
But if there was a court in the world where Williams shone more brightly than anywhere else, it was here. And she was shining more brightly with every match, moving majestically, hitting big and clean, and she took her powerful tennis to Konta from the very start.
The Briton lived with her for much of the first set, and certainly the stats confirmed that: there was little to choose, until a pivotal ninth game. Konta worked 15-40 against the Williams serve, but the American held off the challenge with some mighty serving, and in the very next game she broke Konta for the set, 6-4.
The second set saw Williams taking a tighter grip on the match, forcing her forehands and backhands deep to the corners and giving Konta no room or time to counter. Williams opened with a love hold and broke in the fourth game, even though Konta battled back from 0-40 with some spirited shot-making.
A love hold from Williams, and Konta was defending deuce. The American held for 5-2, and despite a long and gutsy final game from the Briton, a mix of aces, double faults, winners and errors, it was Williams who took command with one final forehand winner, 6-2.
It was clearly an emotional victory for her, and she now has the opportunity to become the become the oldest Major champion in the Open Era. After years of setbacks through injury and illness, she has made two Major finals in a single season for the first time since 2003, and she has scored her first win here over a top-10 player since 2009.
However, to win her sixth title, she will have to play the resurgent Garbine Mugurza, who dropped only two games in a dominant performance over the unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-1, 6-1.
Rybarikova, who came through two lots of surgery last year, reached the second week at a Major for the first time with some sparkling all-court tennis, beating Pliskova along the way. But she was overpowered by the Spaniard, who made the final here in 2015, and overcome by the occasion, too. However, she proved she is a woman who is currently ranked way lower, at 87, than her true quality.
Williams leads Muguruza 3-1 in their head-to-head. Even so, it was to her sister Serena that the veteran champion referred. It was, indeed, the younger Williams who beat Muguruza in that final.
“I have to ask Serena for some pointers. It’s usually her in these finals and I’m just trying to represent Williams as best I can.”
And so good does Williams look this year—and it was the absent Serena who beat Venus to the title in Australia—that it would take a brave person to bet against her walking away with the appropriately named Venus Rosewater Dish nine years after she last lifted it on Centre Court.