Venus rising: Williams back in Grand Slam semi 6 years later

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LONDON >> In some ways, making it to a Grand Slam semifinal is rather been-there, done-that for Venus Williams.

She is, after all, already the owner of seven major titles, including five at Wimbledon.

This one, though, is different.

She's 36 now, a half-dozen years removed from her last such run. And, in the interim, she has been through the daily struggles of dealing with a disease that can sap energy and cause joint pain.

Williams made it to the final four at the All England Club for the first time since 2009, and at any Grand Slam tournament since the year after that, playing mistake-free to beat Yaroslava Shvedova 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

"Semifinals feels good. But it doesn't feel foreign at all, let's put it that way," said Williams, whose first Wimbledon title came in 2000 and whose most recent came in 2008.

Asked to compare her current level of play to that of the past, Williams shook her head, shut her eyes and laughed.

"I don't remember. Six years ago is ages ago," she responded. "I was most likely kicking butt six years ago, if I was in the semis or the finals. You have to be."

Just like in the old days, Williams will be joined in the semifinals by a familiar face — younger sister Serena, who moved closer to equaling Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22nd Grand Slam championships by defeating 21st-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-4, taking the last three games of each set. Serena hit 11 aces, including one at 123 mph to end it.

This, then, is the latest chapter of the remarkable Williams sister tale: a pair of siblings from Compton, California, who rose to the top of tennis. It's the 11th time they've reached the semis at the same major; in all previous 10, one took home the trophy. That includes four all-in-the-family finals at Wimbledon, with Venus winning in 2008, and Serena in 2002, 2003 and 2009.

On Thursday, they will try to set up another title match when No. 1 Serena faces unseeded Elena Vesnina, while No. 8 Venus meets No. 4 Angelique Kerber.

"It just means that she has a lot of perseverance. She's a real fighter," Serena said about Venus, the oldest woman in a major semifinal since 1994, when Martina Navratilova was 37 at Wimbledon. "Like I always say, it's super inspiring for me."

Kerber, who surprised Serena in the Australian Open final in January for her first Grand Slam title, advanced by eliminating No. 5 Simona Halep 7-5, 7-6 (2). Vesnina, ranked 50th and never before a major quarterfinalist, moved on by overwhelming No. 19 Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-2.

The last men's quarterfinal spot was earned by 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych, who completed his 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8), 6-7 (9), 6-3 victory over Jiri Vesely in a match suspended after the fourth set Monday night because of darkness. On Wednesday, the semifinalists will be determined by these matchups: Andy Murray vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roger Federer vs. Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic vs. Sam Querrey and Berdych vs. Lucas Pouille.

There wasn't much drama in the quartet of women's matches Tuesday, although Venus was perilously close to dropping her opening set against the 96th-ranked Shvedova, now 0-3 in major quarterfinals.

Shvedova led 5-2 in the tiebreaker before collapsing this way: forehand long, backhand wide, forehand into the net, forehand long. Those unforced errors were part of her 24 in the match, 15 more than Venus. They also created a set point for Venus, who converted it with a 99 mph service winner.

Playing with her left thigh taped, Venus moved quite well, covering the court with speed and perfect timing, offering up enough defense and waiting for Shvedova's miscues. When Shvedova's final shot nestled in the net, Venus let out a cry of "Come on!" and raised her arms.

"Once you get to this part of a tournament, motivation is going to kick in after a few games of every match," said Venus' coach, David Witt, "and you're going to stop thinking about being sore, if you're sore."

In 2011, Venus revealed that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, and since then there have been repeated questions about when she might quit tennis — especially as early losses accumulated. She had six first-round exits at majors over the past six years, compared with three over her career's first 14 years.

"Retiring is the easy way out," she said. "I don't have time for easy."

About 1 1/2 hours later, Venus went back out to team with Serena and win a doubles match to get to that event's quarterfinals.

One more victory each in singles, and they'll be sharing the court again — except on opposite sides of the net, reprising their one-of-a-kind rivalry. Just like in the old days.


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