Venus turns back the clock

On a day dominated by the Williams sisters, 36-year-old Venus' lithe brilliance against Yaroslava Shvedova for a semifinal spot at Wimbledon became the highlight of an eventful day. The last time Venus figured in a Grand Slam singles semifinals was at the US Open in 2010.

"The five-time champion, when on song, is a gifted ballerina on a grand stage and a willowy athlete who makes us blind to her power and quickness of feet." Venus in action against Yaroslava Shvedova.   -  Reuters

One of the most fascinating aspects of women’s tennis over the last two decades has been the presence of two remarkably gifted women with the Williams surname. On Tuesday, there they were, 16 long years after they first got to this stage of the Wimbledon championship together.

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You can find a few things in common about the sisters, but you often tend to think of what is dissimilar between the two on and off the court. And, to me, one of the most aesthetically distinct things between the two can be witnessed at Wimbledon more than at any of the other three Majors.

With their pulsating energy, never-say-die spirit and innate talent honed on a pock marked parking lot that was a No Go Zone to most of the residents of Compton, Los Angeles, both women have been celebrated for their own individual accomplishments.

Over the last five years, even as Venus had done her bit at the Slams through the first week and then turned spectator or has gone home, the Serena legend has grown and grown. But like a caring big sister, Venus has rejoiced from the players’ box or watching on television as Serena piled on the silverware.

At 36, Venus, playing in her first quarterfinal here since 2010, knows that there is plenty of life after sport for a woman with her tastes. And this means she also realises that the end is near and she has to be at her very best if she has an eye on the big prize.

The five-time champion, when on song, is a combination of a gifted ballerina on a grand stage and a willowy athlete who makes us blind to her power and quickness of feet, quite often, because the overall impact on those watching is jaw-droppingly awesome. On Tuesday, against Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakasthan, Venus looked a little bored, appeared a step slower and smiled at her own unforced errors as she made it into the semifinals.

Steps on the pedal

Venus survived the first set slugfest and then stepped on the pedal to get home 7-6(5), 6-2 in an hour and 42 minutes. Believe it or not, the last time Venus figured in a Grand Slam singles semifinals was at the US Open in 2010.

Venus will take on Angelique Kerber of Germany on Thursday. The fourth seeded German stopped Romanian fifth seed Simona Halep 7-5, 7-6 (2) in an entertaining match on the No.1 court. The multiple Wimbledon champion, Venus, will be hoping that both she and Serena, aged 34, could set up yet another Grand Slam final just so the trophy travels to the right address – the home where 28 Grand Slam singles trophies are on show.

There wasn’t a whole lot by way of entertainment on the Centre Court but Venus showed that she was not just motivated but still passionate about the game, even if her face rarely reflects that sort of enthusiasm.

There may have been prizes being handed out to anyone outside her small entourage who could spell Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s surname right but quite a few on court would have been impressed by her attitude although Serena Williams broke her in the ninth game in both sets for a 6-4, 6-4 victory. Serena will play Elena Vesvina of Russia, who got past Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-2.

Venus was threatened in the first set tiebreak by an opponent who seemed to believe in unrelenting aggression no matter the unforced errors that might crop up with such an attitude.

After staying so close to her iconic opponent, Shvedova made two successive mistakes to lose the tiebreak and then offered the American her first matchpoint in the eighth game of the second set. Finallly, Shvedova missed a forehand approach shot to end the match.

Shock defeat

Later on an afternoon of brilliant sunshine, Sania Mirza of India and her partner Ivan Dodig of Croatia, the top seeds in the mixed doubles championship seemed to be cruising before crashing to a shock second round defeat the little known British pair of Neal Skupski and Anna Smith.

Up a set and a break, the Indo-Croatian pair did not seem to have a Plan B even as Skupski and Smith raised their game a notch and rode on the passionate support of home fans on court No. 18. They won 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. Mirza and Dodig let go of two matchpoints before the Indian was broken in the 11th game of the decider. Smith served out the match without fuss to make the quarterfinals.

There awaits a feast on Wednesday for Centre Court ticket holders as Roger Federer plays Marin Cilic and Andy Murray takes on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the men’s quarterfinals.

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