For the second straight season, and the tenth time in her illustrious career, Venus Williams is a Wimbledon semifinalist. While last year Williams' mere presence in a major semifinal after a six-year absence was the feel-good story of 2016, this year there's a different feeling in the air—that the elder Williams sister, at 37 years old, isn't done yet.
Williams has dropped only one set so far this tournament. She has beaten three consecutive opponents who were born in 1997, the same year she played in her first Wimbledon. She's been cool, calm, collected, and assertive—but not reckless—on the court. She's on a mission, and doesn't seem surprised, or satisfied, to be in the semifinals.
"I love it. I try really hard," she said when asked about her late-career success on Tuesday. She had just defeated the 20-year-old French Open champion Jeļena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals. "There's no other explanation. You do your best while you can. That's what I'm doing."
And so here we are, with Williams two matches away from winning her eighth major title, a full nine years after winning her seventh. And while this is surely not her last shot at winning another major, it's hard to imagine that she will have a better one again.
That's because she's healthy, in great form, playing on her favorite surface at her most successful Slam. And, oh yeah, it helps that her biggest rival is six months pregnant and watching the action unfold from her couch.
Williams has played steady top-ten tennis since making it to the Australian Open final to start the year, where she lost to her sister. She reached the quarterfinals at Indian Wells, the semifinals of Miami, the quarterfinals of Rome, and the fourth round of the French Open.
In fact, she's already guaranteed a spot back in the top ten after Wimbledon, no matter what happens from here on out.
Perhaps most crucially, she's had to withdraw from only one tournament this year—her first, in Auckland—due to injury. That's a remarkable run of health for a 37-year-old suffering from an autoimmune disorder.
Venus appears to have reached a level of comfort on the biggest stages of the sport that has been eluding her since 2011, when she first announced her diagnosis of Sjogren's Syndrome and spent significant time away from the WTA Tour trying to get healthy. From 2011 to 2014, Williams only made it to the fourth round of a major once, at Wimbledon in 2011. But since 2015, she's made it to the second week of a major nine different times, including four quarterfinals, three semifinals, and one final. This is her seventh straight appearance in the second week of a major, a remarkable run of consistency for any player, let alone one with as many miles on her legs as Williams has.
She's been knocking on the door lately, in other words, and it makes sense that she would knock it down at Wimbledon, the tournament that is practically synonymous with Venus Williams.
While Serena was the first Williams sister to win a major, Venus was the first to take the Wimbledon singles title, winning the aptly named Venus Rosewater Dish back in 2000, when she was only 20 years old.
There have been a lot of famous celebrations on the hallowed lawns of the All England Club, but the iconic image of Venus leaping, twirling, and pumping her fists with joy after Lindsay Davenport's on-the-run volley fell into the net on match point, while her father held a whiteboard sign in the stands that read "It's Venus' Party And No One Was Invited," stands out above the rest. It marked a significant breakthrough on what is, quite literally, the whitest stage in tennis.
Since then, Williams has won five of her seven majors on these iconic lawns. Her long limbs allow her to prance around the grass, and her lethal serve-and-forehand combination has left countless opponents helpless on the other side of the net. There's a physical and emotional grace about Williams that seems to fit perfectly with the tradition at Wimbledon, and she's never been afraid to push the tournament to become better, whether that's calling out its sexist court-scheduling practices, pushing for equal pay, or speaking about the significance of her race while accepting her trophy.
It's a place she seems at home.
Of course, her sister has felt at home at Wimbledon over the years, as well. There was a lot of talk before the tournament about who would benefit the most from Serena sitting out, and the answer just might be Venus. After all, Serena leads their head-to-head 17-11 overall, and 10-5 in the majors. Venus has made 15 Grand Slam finals. She's lost to her sister in seven of them. Serena has been a major obstacle for Venus in her most recent run of success, too: in addition to the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, the younger Williams also beat her sister in the fourth round of Wimbledon and the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in 2015.
Yes, it's hard to imagine things lining up any straighter for Venus.
That doesn't mean that Williams has this major in the bag, though. According to oddsmakers, she's actually the third favorite out of the four remaining women. On Thursday, Williams faces Johanna Konta, who has a chance to become the first British woman to win Wimbledon singles in 40 years. It's safe to say that Williams will not be the crowd favorite in that match.
The 26-year-old Konta is a late bloomer in tennis terms; she's been a top-ten mainstay for about a year, and is currently ranked No. 6 in the world. She leads the head-to-head against Williams 3-2.
If she makes it past Konta, Williams would face either Garbine Muguruza, who defeated Serena in the 2016 French Open final to win her first and so far only major title, or the surprise of the fortnight, Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova, who is currently ranked No. 87 in the world. (In Rybarikova's case the ranking is misleading: she's coming back from an injury layoff and has been on an absolute tear lately, winning 18 of her last 19 matches on grass courts this summer.)
Williams has spent her career defying the odds, however; the latest ones shouldn't faze her a bit. She's battled through injuries, illness, racism, family tragedies, and stupid controversies, all while breaking records and smashing stereotypes along the way.
And, perhaps, she's ready to turn back the clock and recapture that magic she first found on Centre Court 17 years ago. In some ways, not all that much has changed.
"I feel really calm. I love winning Wimbledon," she said after that first victory in 2000. "I love playing tennis. I love winning titles."