Wimbledon 2017

Venus Williams beats young star Ostapenko to reach 10th Wimbledon semi—20 years after debut

The five-time former Wimbledon champion reaches her 10th semi-final at SW19 thanks to a straight sets win against Jeļena Ostapenko

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis at Wimbledon

The superlatives when it comes to Venus Williams, and especially when it comes to Williams at Wimbledon, just keep coming.

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 85 match-wins here, second to sister Serena, who is absent as she expects her first child. Venus has also become the oldest player to reach the quarters of a Major since 1994.

If she should win the title, she could return to the top five, a full six and a half years since she was last there—and before contracting the Sjögren’s Syndrome that almost ended her career entirely.

But her age came into sharp relief nowhere more acutely than in the opponents she faced in the Wimbledon draw: first 21-year-old Elise Mertens, then two teenagers in Naomi Osaka and Ana Konjuh, both regarded as future stars of the tour—Konjuh is already seeded 29. Now it was Jelena Ostapenko, who won the French Open title just days after turning 20. And 20 years ago is when Williams played her first Major match—at Roland Garros, weeks before making her Wimbledon debut.

And make no mistake: Ostapenko, who was ranked 47 when she arrived at Roland Garros and is now No13, also has her sights on the top five. The former junior Wimbledon champion regards grass as her best surface, and relished the chance of the biggest opponent on the biggest stage. After beating No4 seed Elina Svitolina, she pronounced:

“I like to play with a lot of people watching me, with a crowd. I really enjoy that. I don’t like when I play and nobody’s watching the match. I mean, it’s not fun. It’s more fun when a lot of people are watching it and the crowd is really loud.”

She got her wish. The two women separated by 17 years in age, played Centre Court, and the noise was made only the greater by the closed roof.

Williams got off to a great start, broke immediately, and held for 3-0. Ostapenko, perhaps with a few more nerves than she had anticipated, did not get a single break point, and the set was done and dusted, 6-3, in under half an hour.

But the Latvian really did start to make her mark in the second set, cutting down on the errors and testing the Williams movement and stamina with her big serving and drives to the corners of the court. She had a chance to break in the second game, but it was again Williams who got the first advantage, 3-1.

The feisty Ostapenko, though, went after Williams’ serve to get two break chances, and the tall American double faulted: 3-3.

They stayed on level terms through to the sharp end of the set, and what looked like a tie-break finish, but all at once, Williams stepped up the pace, broke, and in the blink of an eye, had served out the match, 7-5.

As the veteran champion said before taking on one of the standard bearers of the next generation:

“Winning never gets old at any stage of your career, ever, ever.”

Then she added with a smile:

“I think I stretch a little harder now—but only because I enjoy it.”

She will next play the winner between two higher-ranked women who were born in 1991, so both of them are more than a decade younger than Williams.

She has beaten Simona Halep three times in four meetings, though Halep got the last one on Rome’s clay. Johanna Konta has three wins from five, but the last went to Williams, also on Rome’s clay. Neither has ever faced the great American champion on grass. But if they want a lesson on how to stay so good for so long, it came in Williams press conference while they were still playing:

“I love that the last day you play, you’re still improving. It’s not something that is stagnant. There’s always a reason. You have to get better. I love that.”

In the top half of the draw, the former Wimbledon finalist and French Open champion, Garbine Muguruza, downed the other over-30 player in the quarters, No7 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 6-4. She will next play either Coco Vandeweghe or Magdalena Rybarikova, who were locked mid-match when rain stopped play.

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