by Steven GRIFFITHS Unbowed by age and illness, Venus Williams stands on the brink of a history as the American star bids to become the oldest Grand Slam champion in Saturday's Wimbledon final against Garbine Muguruza.
At an age when her contemporaries have long since retired, Williams is playing some of the best tennis of her glittering career and she can cap her remarkable renaissance on Centre Court this weekend.
Back in the All England Club final after an eight-year absence, the 37-year-old hopes to become both the oldest Wimbledon and major winner since the Open era began in 1968.
Earning a sixth Wimbledon title, nine years after she last lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish, must have seemed like an impossible dream for Williams when she battled an autoimmune disease that left her fatigued and threatened to force her out of tennis.
Yet, in the twilight of her career, Venus has hit a rich vein of form over the last 12 months.
She was Australian Open runner-up in January to sister Serena, only to have her life thrown into turmoil last month when she was accidently involved in a car crash in Florida that led to the death of an elderly man.
A less strong-willed personality would have gone into hiding, but Venus, after choking back tears when asked about the incident at the start of Wimbledon, has taken solace in her tennis.
“There were definitely some issues. There’s definitely a lot of ups and downs,” she said.
“I just try to hold my head up high, no matter what is happening in life. In sport especially, you have injuries. You have illnesses.
“I feel very focused still. I have one more match that I’d like to be the winner of.
“But I like to take courage in the fact that I’ve been playing well this tournament and this year, and all these moments have led to this.”
Having crushed Johanna Konta with a masterful semi-final victory that made her the oldest Wimbledon finalist for 23 years, Venus admitted she is relishing her return to prominence when many had written her off.
“I’ve played some good tennis in different points of my life. I think it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to play well and to be strong,” she said.
“Experience can either work against you or for you. I like to think it’s working for me.
“This year has been amazing in terms of my play, playing deep into the big events.
“I’m definitely in the position I want to be in. It’s a long two weeks. Now I’m knocking on the door for a title. This is where I want to be.”
– Courage -With Serena absent from Wimbledon while she prepares to have her first child later this year, Venus has seized the opportunity to impose her ferocious will to win on a series of opponents almost half her age.
Now she will lean on Serena for advice on how to vanquish former French Open champion Muguruza, who lost to Venus’s sister in the Wimbledon final two years ago.
“I miss her so much. I try to take the same courage on the court that she would have,” Venus said.
“I’m sure she’s going to give me hopefully some things that will make a difference for me in the match.”
Inspired by her decision to hire compatriot Conchita Martinez as her temporary coach for Wimbledon, Muguruza has enjoyed a revival of her own over the last fortnight.
Since winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open last year, Muguruza had endured something of a sophomore slump as her ranking dropped out of the top 10.
Martinez became the only Spanish woman to win Wimbledon in 1994 and her soothing words of wisdom have guided Muguruza to her third Grand Slam final.
Muguruza’s swaggering victories over Angelique Kerber and Magdalena Rybarikova en route to the final showcased her potent blend of power and poise.
Beating in-form Venus in their first meeting on grass will be her toughest test, but the Spanish 14th seed is convinced she can emulate her coach’s memorable triumph.
“All the names that I read on the honours board, I know all of them. For the last years, you see a lot of Williams surname,” she said.
“So I look forward to putting a Spanish name back there.” DM
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