Venus Williams says she never doubted she’d reach another Grand Slam final despite an eight-year drought — and she’s not planning to let her sister Serena ruin the party now she’s there.
The 36-year-old rolled back the years to beat dangerous Coco Vendeweghe 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 6-3 in the Australian Open semi-finals, striking a blow for the tennis old guard and justifying her self-belief.
Despite failing to reach a major final since Wimbledon in 2009 — her 14th, winning seven and losing seven — she always knew it would happen again, despite the illness and injuries she has suffered in the intervening years.
“Not at all. Not at all,” she said, when asked if she ever thought the chance had passed, particularly with her diagnosis with Sjogren’s syndrome, a rare, energy-sapping autoimmune disorder, in 2011.
“Even the matches I’m not winning, I’m still in control, normally, of every match that I have the opportunity. It’s on my racquet, always putting myself in position to be where I need to be.
“As long as you continue to try, you have an opportunity. That’s why I’m here.”
In making the decider, she becomes the oldest finalist at Melbourne Park in the Open era, joining a select list of 30-somethings to get that far including Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
The 13th seed also bags the record for the longest wait between major finals at seven-and-a-half years, following her last appearance at Wimbledon.
Williams has consistently said in Melbourne that she has nothing to prove and was simply “living the dream”, and her relaxed approach has paid dividends. But her achievement has also come through hard work, coupled with an unrelenting desire to win. “Clearly these matches are challenging, physically, mentally, all of that. It’s a challenge,” she said. “But I’m up for the challenge. Also, if I’m here, that’s why I’m here. I’m not just here to hang out halfway around the world.
“This is a long way to come for a hang-out session. Whether you win, lose or draw, it’s very focused of why you’re here.”
Against Vandeweghe, she was calm and focused, drawing on her vast experience to tame her supremely confident fellow American, picking her shots well and conserving energy to bounce back after losing a first set tiebreaker.
Her joy at clinching the win and finally making another final was clear for all to see, as she screamed and performed pirouettes to huge roars from the crowd.
Next up is younger sister Serena in their ninth Grand Slam final on Saturday, eight years after the last at Wimbledon. Serena holds a 6-2 advantage, stretching back to the US Open in 2001.
“Oh God, yeah, for sure,” Venus said, when asked if she thought she could win on Saturday. If she does, it would thrust her back into the world’s top 10, from her current 17 ranking. Just making the final will move her up to at least 11.
“I probably just need to continue playing like I’m playing. I haven’t played badly. I lost a set today. I was not happy about it,” she said. “But my opponent deserved that set. So what else could I do? Try to get the next two. I will try to do the same.
“When I’m playing on the court with her (Serena), I think I’m playing, like, the best competitor in the game,” she added. “I don’t think I’m chump change either. I can compete against any odds. No matter what, I get out there and I compete.”
Venus Williams of the US celebrates winning her singles semi-final against Coco Vandeweghe of the US. (Reuters)