Venus Williams into Wimbledon final with smooth defeat of Johanna Konta
Venus Williams defied time, the odds and Johanna Konta over two ragged sets here on Thursday to reach her ninth Wimbledon final at 37, the oldest contender since Martina Navratilova in 1994.
The American made her Wimbledon debut just three years after that and has been an adornment ever since – and a five-time champion at her favourite tournament.
She beat Britain’s best – and first semi-finalist since Virginia Wade in 1978 – 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and a quarter in front of a Centre Court audience who had earlier been left short-changed in the first semi-final, when Garbiñe Muguruza beat the inexperienced world No87 Magdalena Rygarikova 6-1, 6-1 in just 65 minutes.
Williams ignored the attentions of a friendly bee to begin with an easy hold; and, while it took Konta a few solid strikes to calm the nerves running through her racket, she quickly calculated the best way to test the 37-year-old American was wide and deep across the baseline.
No active player can match Williams’s 20 Wimbledon appearances. This was her 101st singles match at the All England Club, her 10th semi-final – where she has won five times – and Konta’s 12th and her first semi-final.
Those numbers represent a yawning gap in experience and achievement, which the sixth seed set about narrowing with her uncomplicated but increasingly potent game: hitting hard and flat behind a solid serve, and trusting legs that are 13 years younger than her opponent’s.
Three aces to hold in the sixth game gave Konta not only parity on the scoreboard but confirmation that she could beat Williams with pace and placement. The American was simply not moving for those well-struck balls 10 feet and more away from her. The trick for Konta was to keep picking her spots.
There was the small matter of the ball coming the other way and, when she lined up her groundstrokes, Williams was lethal. However, the worn court was tough to read some times on day 10, and she some times struggled to get low enough to cope with the uneven bounce.
While blessed with better movement and a bigger serve, Konta did not bring as much variety, but she figured what was good enough to beat Donna Vekic and Simona Halep in two thrilling three-setters ought to do the job against Williams.
Williams saved a break point for 5-4, paying no heed to the applause that greeted her double fault and a butchered drive volley. There could be no questioning the strength of commiseration for the British player, though, who lost her way serving to stay in the set, hitting her final backhand long.
There had been little in the first frame, but Konta need to rediscover her early rhythm. Williams, meanwhile, was determined to keep the points short, robbing her opponent of rally time.
A cruel clip of the net and a double fault in the fourth game tipped Konta into a mini crisis, but she rescued one of three break points with a delightful stop volley, and scraped a forehand into empty space for 30-40. But, off balance, she dumped a forehand and Williams was three games away from her ninth Wimbledon final.
Konta badly needed a stretch of points to get back in the fight, but she struggled to find the consistency of her earlier performances. Just before the hour, she was a set and 1-4 down with ball in hand. To get to the semi-finals, she had spent an average of two hours and four minutes on court, and now it looked like it might be over in half that time.
The low bounce was discomforting her as Williams continued to hit with more certainty, but Konta held nervously in the sixth game.
There was still hope, but not much. Konta saved two match points before handing Williams a third opportunity with her seventh double fault, and the American rifled him a forehand winner past Konta at the net.