Venus, Lucic-Baroni Enjoy Renaissances To Start 2017
Published April 19, 2017 12:14
Up next on our countdown, a pair of WTA veterans who've reignited their results and hit new heights to start the season…
Venus Still In Orbit: At 36 years old, five-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams silenced the doubters once and for all at this year's Australian Open, rolling into her first Grand Slam final since 2009. Sjogren's Syndrome and signs of age long left the former World No.1 a shell of her former self, seeing her drop outside the Top 100 and endure multiple early losses at majors.
All of that began to turn around last year, when she reached the Wimbledon semifinals after a six year absence from that stage. Kicking off 2017 under an injury cloud didn't bode well for the sentimental favorite, but the American was anything but sentimental in Melbourne, ruthlessly outlasting her younger opposition to book the sport's ninth all-Williams final.
Far from a one-off, Venus has gone up and up since the tour left Down Under. After narrowly falling to rival and eventual champion Elena Vesnina at the BNP Paribas Open, she scored her first win over a reigning World No.1 in nearly three years, shocking top seed Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.
"I really don't have any regrets. I really don't," she said in Charleston. "I've lived exactly how I've wanted to. I've tried my hardest every single time. I didn't win the matches I should have always won, but I really gave it my all. That, for me, is enough."
"I think the greatest satisfaction is to be able to live my life on my own terms, which isn't always a given in life, no matter how hard you try or what you think you deserve."
Back up to No.12 on the WTA rankings, the elder Williams briefly broke back into the Top 10 after Miami, and appears in pole position to return with so few points to defend between now and her beloved Wimbledon Championships.
Lucic-Baroni Looming Large: There comes a point in a player's career where they begin to fill a certain niche, and few played her role more perfectly than Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The big-hitting Croat spent much of the last decade unseeded and looming, the dangerous floater in every major draw ready to cause a newsworthy first week upset.
"Sometimes people think you play a top player and you'll go in there relaxed like you have nothing to lose," Lucic-Baroni said. "I don't see it that way at all. I know I have the game to beat top players so I came in there with a gameplan today to win the match. I didn't go to see the court and enjoy. I'm way too old and I've been around way too long to just gain experience. I came there to win the match."
She seemed on course for a similar performance in Melbourne, stunning former World No.2 Agnieszka Radwanska in two quick sets in the second round. The tournament rolled into the second week and so did Lucic-Baroni, reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in almost two decades after outlasting tricky upstarts in Maria Sakkari and Jennifer Brady.
Poised for an honorable loss to a then-undefeated Karolina Pliskova, the 35-year-old flipped the script in emphatic fashion, out-gunning the Czech powerhouse in three grueling sets to find herself in the final four of a major for the first time since 1999, when she roared into the Wimbledon semifinals as a 17-year-old.
If Venus' run was meant to be nostalgically ephemeral, expectations were even lower for Lucic-Baroni, who historically lacked the consistency to compete with the game's elite on a weekly basis. It turns out Melbourne was only a springboard for more and more success, as the veteran has gone on to reach the quarterfinal or better at all but one of her next four events.
Shaking off a sickness that kept her from completing her semifinal in Acapulco, she stunned Radwanska for a second time en route to the Miami Open quarterfinal, and proved herself a player for all surfaces by reaching the semifinals of the Volvo Car Open in Charleston.
On the precipice of an unprecedented Top 20 debut, might we see she and Venus battling in another Grand Slam semifinal in 2017?
The Top 5 Moments That Marked 2017 So Far:
5) The Future Is Now: Teen Titans Crash WTA Party: Kasatkina, Vondrousova Take Titles To Start 2017
4) Slow & Steady Wins The Race: Wozniacki & Svitolina's Hot Streaks Lighting Up 2017
3) Veterans Victorious: Venus & Lucic-Baroni Loom Large To Start 2017
Stay tuned for more...
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.