*Venus Williams cast statistics aside and joined the short list of oldest women on record to advance to a US Open semifinal on Tuesday night.
With the crowd firmly behind her, she took down her fierce rival, the resurgent Petra Kvitova (CZE), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2), to continue her run of age-defying tennis in 2017. Their WTA head to head was 1-4, in favor of Kvitova, prior to Tuesday’s blockbuster quarterfinal match.
“It’s such a wonderful feeling,” she said of the tight win. “You put in so much work to be able to succeed at these moments.”
The 37-year-old former champion is a critical step closer to possibly reaching another Grand Slam final and a chance to punctuate an amazing career. It would be her third final this season (Australian Open, Wimbledon) and a second chance (lost Wimbledon to Garbine Muguruza (ESP)) to give it a go without her sister Serena Williams standing in the way of her chances.
Venus’s win allowed her to join Sloane Stephens, another black American who advanced to the semis and is capitalizing on Serena’s absence. Sloane shut the door on Sharapova-slayer, Anastasija Sevastova (LAT), in an earlier day session match inside Arthur Ashe. It was a thriller before the thriller, with Sloane having to come from a break down in the third set to pull off the upset (on paper), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) in a tiebreaker. She was cool and steady in her take down, flashing glimmers of what gained her all the attention back in 2013 when she consistently went deep in majors, even beating Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
When asked how she compares this latest string of victories with that period, she said, “I think I have a better perspective and just looking at the game totally different. Just happy with where I’m at. Just looking to build on it.”
So, the good news is we’re guaranteed at least one American of color – with a compelling back story – in the women’s final. The bad news is these two, Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams, will have to try to cancel one other when they play for the second time. Only one can advance to the final.
“Regardless, whatever happens, I have to focus on what’s happening on my side of the court,” Venus Williams said when asked about the match up. “It’s been a great two weeks for American tennis. It’s great to see this resurgence, and I hope it can continue.”
And the American field has mutual respect for the “grandam” women’s tennis: “Venus is just our leader,” Sloane said. “I think as a whole, she’s just like what everyone else looks up to. She’s a great player, a great person. She’s a great leader.”
Madison Keys will face off with Kaia Kanepi (EST) on Wednesday night to try to bring up the rear of the black American women who’ve swung their way to the “business end” of the tournament. She came from behind to knock out Elina Svitolina late Tuesday night, demonstrating she wants to hoist the trophy as bad as her compatriots do. She secured the first set of the match in a tiebreaker, 7-6(2), but went on holiday in the second, dropping it 1-6. She began the third with lingering struggles, being broken straight out of the gate, but returned from her trip at the last minute and snatched the victory from the Ukrainian, 7-6(2), 1-6, 6-4. The come-from-behind win has stoked her confidence and she’s poised to claim one of the remaining two semifinal spots.
The final stages of this year’s US Open have produced some passionate tennis and is replete with inspiring stories. Venus Williams is 37 and has had to battle Sjögren’s syndrome as well as her opponents to arrive at this point; Sloane Stephens was out “on a peg leg” and couldn’t walk for several months after foot surgery; Madison Keys took time away from the tour after surgery to repair her damaged wrist; Petra Kvitova was out due to a severe arm injury after being assaulted and robbed in her home; and Kaia Kanepi was out with double plantar fasciitis and the Epstein-Barr virus. But they all find themselves in the deep stages of the most difficult Grand Slam on the USTA tour.
This either says Women’s tennis is one of the most dangerous careers in the world to pursue OR it says these women are paragons of strength and determination and they won’t be denied in trying to achieve their goals. I think it’s the latter … and I’m thoroughly impressed.
The semifinals, Venus against Sloane and Madison or Kaia against Pliskova or CoCo will be played between Thursday and Friday. Check your local listings.