By Jane Voigt
On Centre Court Wimbledon was five-time champion Venus Williams at the sage age of 37, the oldest woman in the draw. Across the net was Jelena Ostapenko, the fresh-faced 20-year-old Latvian and recently crowned French Open champion.
“I’m not thinking about age,” Venus said, as reported by The Guardian. “When you’re out there, all you’re thinking about, all I can control, is myself. In the thick of the match, it’s not in your head. I feel quite capable, to be honest, and powerful.”
Ostapenko had never played on Centre Court. Had never advanced to the quarterfinal of Wimbledon. And, Venus, well, this was her 100th match at The All England Club.
“After The French Open I had more pressure when I was playing and every match was tough,” Ostapenko told the WTA yesterday. “But, I’m really happy I dealt with the pressure and here I am in the quarters.”
The contrasts between these two women were plentiful. Yet this one stood out: Venus turned pro three years before Ostapenko was born. And, the American made her Wimbledon debut in 1997.
All that background might have interfered with another crushing victory from Ostapenko. Her nerves were immediately palpable and the dominance from Venus swift and cruel, but necessary. You want to hit the ball hard, Jelena? OK. I know how to do that. In fact, my sister and I pioneered this baseline bashing style, which won you your first-ever title that happened to be a Grand Slam. Good on you for that, by the way.
“I know she had to be playing confident and she played a great match,” Venus told the press later. “Not a lot of errors.”
Venus thwacked a 111 M.P.H ace to start the match. Within minutes she was up 3-0. In 73 minutes the match was over, 6-3, 7-5. Venus was on to her 10th Wimbledon semifinal where she’ll meet Great Britain’s hope for glory, Johanna Konta, on Thursday.
“She [Ostapenko] went for a lot of shots,” Venus continued. “She kept herself in the game with her attitude.”
Ostapenko is definitely a rising star in the women’s game and will, provisionally, rise to the top 10 following Wimbledon. Her Paris title flipped the tennis world on its head; and until today, she hadn’t lost a match since day one in Paris. But to have completed a double double, winning both the French and Wimbledon, would have been a rare feat. Jennifer Capriati was the last woman in 2001 to win these back-to-back Grand Slams.
Ostapenko was the third young player Venus faced this fortnight. She’d defeated Naomi Osaka of Japan, who is 19, in the third round. And, yesterday, Williams ousted Ana Konjuh, who is 19.
“I definitely think experience helps,” Venus told the press. “For a lot of the players I’ve played [so far] it’s a lot of their first third round of fourth round matches. So I had an opportunity to bank on experience.”
Venus’s record at Wimbledon now stands at 86-14, which is better than younger sister Serena’s record, 86-10. Martina Navratilova (120-14) and Chris Evert (96-15) are the only two players with better records.
“I love the challenge,” Venus said, according to The Guardian. “I love pressure. It’s not always easy dealing with the pressure. It’s only yourself who can have the answer for that.”
Williams’ serve certainly advanced her cause today, especially when compared to Ostapenko’s. Her’s had been problematic throughout the tournament, her second serve a definite liability had she not performed so well during points. She only won 38% of points off that serve today. Venus was 3/3 on break point opportunities, as well, a stunning stat that reflects the edge she had over Ostapenko.
“She [Venus] too this young opponent very seriously,” Chris Evert said, calling the match for ESPN.
Garbine Muguruza (No. 14) quickly defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova (No. 7) in another quarterfinal today. The Spaniard’s competitive nature has improved each round. The evidence? She won the important points. She dared to push herself.
Muguruza will face Magdalena Rybarikova in the semifinals. The Slovakian is the story of the tournament. Off court for over 7 months due to injuries and two surgeries, she has stormed back this spring to win 18 out of 20 matches, improving from No. 400 to her current rank of No. 87. In 35 prior Grand Slam appearances, she had not advanced beyond the third round. Today, she defeated a strongly favored CoCo Vandeweghe, 6-3, 6-3, to advance to her first major semifinal.
“I’m so happy and grateful,” Rybarikova told the BBC, immediately following her victory over the American. “I still can’t believe that I’m in the Wimbledon semifinals.”
Rybarikova became a serious contender to go deep in the draw, after she upset the number-two seed, Karolina Pliskova, in the second round. However, since Simona Halep lost today to Konta and Angelique Kerber lost yesterday, Pliskova will take over the number one ranking at the end of the tournament.
This is the 17th consecutive Grand Slam with a female player making her semifinal debut. The only winner so far: Ostapenko.