LONDON, Great Britain - For the first time since 2009, Serena Williams and Venus Williams have made the semifinals of the same Slam. Serena booked her spot on Tuesday with a clean 6-4, 6-4 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Venus followed suit with her own straight set win, 7-6(5), 6-2 over Yaroslava Shvedova.
The Australian Open champion beat No.5 seed Simona Halep, 7-5, 7-6(2) in her toughest test of the tournament, while Vesnina played her best match of the fortnight to beat Dominika Cibulkova, 6-2, 6-2 to make her first major semifinal.
Serena Williams has her swagger back: Serena has been taking care of business on court. With her win over Pavlyuchenkova to advance to her eighth straight Slam semifinal, she has lost just one set at Wimbledon. Since her second round three-set win over Christina McHale - where she hit 40 unforced errors - she has cleaned things up dramatically, hitting no more than 19 unforced in any single match since. In her five matches she's also dished out two bagel sets. It's all shaping up perfectly for the World No.1 on court.
But off-court, her swagger has been even more apparent. Through much of last year, as she marched toward a possible Calendar Grand Slam, there was an intentional, purposeful humility about Serena. When asked to talk about herself the frequent phrases were some iteration of, "I'm just trying the best I can can." She worked overtime to diffuse any pressure, talking up the qualities of the field and the task at hand. There was an air of uncertainty about her, despite the results she was racking up.
That has not been the case at Wimbledon. From the get-go Serena has been on edge. In a good way. In a very refreshing way. In a way that should worry the remaining semifinalists.
Serena is backing herself here. She is not shying away from her accomplishments or her qualities. Serena is reminding everyone, not just with her play but now with her own words, that's the World No.1, the best player on the planet, and one of the greatest of all time.
Here's a sample of some of what we're hearing in the interview room:
Q. In the interview when you came off court after your win, you said, I know mentally no one can break me. What did you mean by that?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think it says it in itself. I've been through a lot in my career, on the court and off the court. I've been in every position you can be in. So I know mentally I'm, hands down, one of the toughest players out here. It's very difficult to break me down mentally.
Q. This is your eighth straight Grand Slam semifinal. How happy are you with the sort of consistency you've had getting through these first five rounds?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think it's great. You know, like I said, it just shows another mental toughness of mine, just being able to come through and consistently get to this stage of the tournament. I think it's something that is really noteworthy.
Q. Your serve is described as the single greatest stroke in the history of women's tennis. We know about your mental toughness. Can you compare those two elements in your game?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, my serve is usually really good. I don't know how it came about, though. Like, I'm not as tall as all the other players. So it's strange that I have such a strong, hard serve.
But I have to say what I think really is my game is my mental toughness because just not only to be able to play, to win, but to be able to come back when I'm down. Both on the court and after tough losses, just to continue to come back and continue to fight, it's something that takes a lot of tenacity.
Q. Her mobility is outstanding, she's a great retriever. Your ground game looked really sharp. What are the keys for you on grass and how are you able to get to so many balls, crack those unbelievable backhands.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I move very well, as well especially when I want to (smiling). Yeah, I guess I've been wanting to lately just kind of get out there and pretty much get every ball back.
That's one thing I've been working on, is my defensive game. I feel like I've got an extremely strong defensive game, and always have throughout my career. I wanted to bring it up to par again the way it was, so... I'm glad you noticed.
Q. Could you talk about your intensity. Do you feel it's just you? Is it something you embrace and love? Do you step away and say, Whoa, a bit too much?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean, it's no secret, I'm a very intense player. I'm so passionate at my job, just like you guys are with writing. I hope you are just as passionate. This is what I do, and I love what I do.
I wake up since I was three years old to do this. These are the moments that I live for. The passion and the intensity that I have is what makes me Serena. I can't change, nor would I ever want to be different.
Q. Those sort of bright spots, how much can that give you confidence, you're moving in the right direction or where you want to be?
SERENA WILLIAMS: It gives me a lot of confidence. I know what it takes to win these tournaments. It's just about now just doing it.
Q. If you're going to struggle and fight, is this the best venue for you to do it at where you have the grass underfoot, big serve going?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I don't think that's a fair statement. I think I've struggled and fought on every surface and I've come out on top. It really doesn't matter what surface it is for me.
Q. There seems to be a notion out there that trying to get your 22nd major singles title to equal Graf's mark wears on you. I want to ask you how much you think about that. What do you think of the idea that some people think it's a difficult mental thing for you? How much do you think about that number 22?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think more or less about winning Australia, I think about winning the French Open. Didn't happen. I think about winning Wimbledon. I don't necessarily think about winning 22.
Mentally I've been further down than anyone can be. Well, maybe not anyone, but I've been pretty low. There's nothing that's not mentally too hard for me.
Through it all she's been as gracious as she has in the past in complementing her opponents and celebrating in the success of her fellow Americans at Wimbledon. But the tone has been different here in London compared to Roland Garros or the Australian Open. Serena is sending a clear message both on and off the court: She's done feeling sorry for herself or being scared of failure. She's here to win Wimbledon.
Venus Williams turns back the clock: The feel good story of the fortnight is, without a doubt, Venus Williams. At 36 years old she's back in the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time since 2009. She's brushed aside three young upstarts in Donna Vekic, Maria Sakkari, and Daria Kasatkina in the first three rounds, before rolling past two veteran opponents in Carla Suárez Navarro and Yaroslava Shvedova. And she's not done yet. Put aside those patronizing questions about everything now being a bonus for Venus, that she should just be happy to have made the semifinals.
The five-time Wimbledon champion wants more, and she's one win away from a possible final showdown against her sister. "Semifinals feels good," a smiling Venus said. "But it doesn't feel foreign at all, let's put it that way."
Venus's journey back to this stage at a major tournament has been five years in the making. Diagnosed with an auto-immune disease in 2011, she has played on, showing flashes of brilliance but struggling to string it together at the Slams. The whispering voices wondered why she continued to play when it appeared her glory days were behind her.
"Retiring is the easy way out," Venus said. "I don't have time for easy.
"The most difficult part of the journey is just not being in control because when you're an athlete, you're used to being in control, being able to work for anything," Venus said, when asked about how she's learned to manage being a high-level athlete and Sjogren's Syndrome. "Not being able to do that is a challenge. Also it was a relief for me to know what was wrong with me because I hadn't felt well in a while. That was, Okay, I'm not crazy. So that was a good moment.
"This has been my life. What can I say? I wouldn't wish it any other way. It's been my life. It's been a beautiful life. It's been a great experience. It's been everything."
As for what the last five years have taught her, Venus pointed to the two qualities that have always defined her career: fearlessness and self-belief in the face of the odds.
"It's easy to be afraid. You have to let fear go. Another lesson is you just have to believe in yourself. You just have to. There's no way around it. You've got to believe in yourself. No matter how things are stacked against you, you just have to every time."
Angelique Kerber on a roll: Under the radar suits Angelique Kerber's personality. She's a quiet champion. The spotlight can be blinding. Sometimes it can burn. Kerber felt that when she arrived in Paris in May as the Australian Open champion. People were talking about her. That wasn't the case here in London.
"When I arrived in Paris, I was feeling much more pressure," Kerber said. "I did it actually by myself, to put a lot of pressure on me. Also, I was not handling it so well to do everything also off court. It was everything too much, I think.
"When I arrived here, I was telling myself, just like in Australia, Just be relaxed, playing round by round, not making things actually too much complicated, not putting pressure on myself. So that was actually what I changed, what I learn also from Paris. Just also focusing on the tennis thing, on my practice, being more relaxed."
Kerber's career about the work. When she can block out the distractions and just focus on the work, her best results have come. Last year she won four titles but never progressed past the third round at any major. This year she start the season with her first major win and she she's a win away from contesting another major final.
"I know that I have the game to win the big tournament," she said. "I know that I know how to do it right now. But the pressure is there, of course. I mean, I'm just looking forward to it. I know that I have a lot of confidence right now. I'm feeling good on grass court. This is what counts."
Kerber is the only semifinalist who has yet to lose a set, and though her first four matches were against unseeded opponents, she played a confident match to dispatch of No.5 seed Simona Halep in the quarterfinals. Kerber has not been broken in three of her five matches, and she's put more than 90% of her returns in in her last three matches.
Elena Vesnina's Grand Slam breakthrough: With a 6-2, 6-2 decimation of the streaking No.19 seed Dominika Cibulkova, Elena Vesnina betters her already career-best run by reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal in singles. With a winking nod towards her apparent Lendl Effect boost, stay tuned for a full Insider take on the Russian veteran.
Rankings Watch: Kerber is set to move back to No.2 after Wimbledon. She can overtake Serena for No.1 if she wins the title and Serena loses in the semifinals.
Venus will move to No.7 by reaching the semifinals and can climb to No.6 by reaching the final, which would be her highest ranking since week of Feb. 14, 2011. She could move to No.5 by winning the title.
Vesnina was ranked No.122 in mid-February this year. By reaching the semifinals she will move into the Top 25. She would move to a career-high No.18 by reaching the final and would make her Top 10 debut (at No.9) if she wins the title.
Emotional rescue: Players and pundits focus on the importance of physical recovery. It's no surprise that a team of physios, trainers, and a regular regimen of ice baths are standard in today's game. But what about emotional recovery? There are no massage tables or tape jobs for that.
That was the dilemma for Dominika Cibulkova, who came out flat and just couldn't get things going against Vesnina.
"I think it was the biggest issue today for me," Cibulkova said. "When you see me play, I get really, really emotional. Some players, they don't get so many emotions, but I just play with it. That's how I am. Maybe if I would get the day off, it would help me. But it was just so close playing today's match after yesterday. So I think that was the toughest for me, I would say. It was more tough for me than maybe physically."
"I have to say Vesnina played really, really well," Cibulkova said. "It was just all together. She was playing really well."
And for those who are on Domi Wedding Watch: It will go forward as planned on Saturday.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova looks to build: The 25-year-old was into her first Slam quarterfinal in five years, a good reward for the hard works she's been putting in with her coach Dieter Kindlmann. Could this be the spark that Pavlyuchenkova needed to get her prodigious career back on track? She was a three-time junior Slam champion but her transition to the pro tour has been spotty for someone of her pure talent.
This was quite the chunk of junior talent. Junior Slam winners start with AO left to right. pic.twitter.com/bbBxEPsZvu
? Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) July 5, 2016
The best news to come out of the week for Pavlyuchenkova was her expressed ambition. She told reporters that after Miami she realized she had to take a more disciplined approach to her tennis and hiring Kindlmann was a big part of that. Against Serena, she played with purpose and her performance was one to be proud of.
"I've been waiting for this moment for so long, so it's very special right now playing against Serena on Centre Court here," she said after the match. "I was very nervous today before the match because I didn't want to go out there and just enjoy, I really wanted to win." That was very good to hear.
The foolishness of youth: Let's end it on this.
Q. A few years ago you said that you would never expect to be playing tennis being 35 years old, still in the pro career. If someone would tell you you'd be still playing being 40 in the pro tennis, do you think it's feasible or not?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, you have to understand that 21 year olds are foolish. I didn't think I was going to be here at 36. Now, if I'm here at 46, I will say that 46 year olds are foolish. I don't think I'll be here, but we'll see.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images.