LONDON, Great Britain - No.10 seed Venus Williams completed a triptych of 1997-born scalps with a 6-3 7-5 win over No.13 seed Jelena Ostapenko to move into the Wimbledon semifinals for the ninth time.
In the 20th anniversary of her Wimbledon debut, the five-time champion has spent the past three rounds facing players who were born in that year, having schooled Naomi Osaka in the third round and Ana Konjuh in the last 16, and for her second consecutive match the oldest player left in the draw would have to take on the youngest. And unlike the previous pair of rising talents, Ostapenko - who was just 15 days old when Venus made her first appearance at The Championships - had proven herself on the big stage with her Roland Garros title run last month.
Nonetheless, the gulf in experience showed at the start of the first meeting between the two players. The 37-year-old, for whom Centre Court has become something of a second home over the years, fired three aces for a quickfire hold in the first game. Ostapenko, making her own debut on its turf, took longer to adjust, netting two backhands to fall behind an immediate break.
That would prove to be crucial: there would be no further break points in the set. As she settled, the Roland Garros champion proved able to match Venus off the ground, striking 20 winners to the American's 13 overall - but was let down by a 44% first serve percentage in the first set as her 37-year-old opponent advanced inside the baseline to punish a second serve which averaged 77mph.
Venus, meanwhile, was nigh-untouchable on serve, firing four aces - of eight in total - as well as 15 unreturned serves in the opener, preventing Ostapenko from even reaching deuce on return.
The Latvian didn't win a Slam by crumbling, though, and she responded by upping her intensity in the second set. Firing a stunning forehand down the line winner on the run in the opening game, she began to dominate with that wing to carve out her first break point in the subsequent game - but when the 20-year-old was unable to convert, it seemed as though Venus would pull away, hammering down another ace to hold and riding the momentum to break Ostapenko to love.
It was then that the 2014 girls' champion put together her finest streak of the match, spreading her powerful groundstrokes around the court to rack up a slew of winners, including a fine volley pick-up on her first net foray of the day - and three consecutive games to lead 4-3. Crucially, too, Ostapenko raised her first serve percentage to a less vulnerable 68%.
Bidding to become the oldest Wimbledon semifinalist since Martina Navratilova in 1994, it was Venus's turn to respond. Having conceded the break on a double fault, she tightened up her serve to its former impregnable levels again - and at 5-5 pounced, anticipating Ostapenko's groundstroke patterns to quell her young rival's ebullient power and eke out another break. Thereafter, Venus was in no danger of wobbling as she calmly served out her ninth Wimbledon quarterfinal victory to 15 and book a place against either Simona Halep or Johanna Konta in the final four.
Afterwards, Venus was complimentary of the youngest Slam champion on the block. "She played a great match," she observed. "She competed really well. She kept herself... really in the game with her attitude. I thought she just did a lot of things really well and kept it close. That's when you have an opportunity to hopefully maybe take a set or the match. She did the right things to do that."
Though Ostapenko admitted that "maybe I was very small" when Venus had played the majority of her Slam finals and her childhood memories mostly involved Serena, she repaid the tribute, tipping Venus to take the title. "She's a great player," said the Latvian. "Of course, I wanted to show my best today. But I think she played really well, as I said.
"Because I was watching her first matches, like couple of matches this tournament, and I think every match she was playing better and better. Especially she was serving very well today."
Meanwhile, Venus attributed her ongoing success to her love for "the beautiful game". Expanding on this, she said: "I love the challenge. I love pressure. It's not always easy dealing with the pressure. There's constant pressure. It's only yourself who can have the answer for that.
"I love the last day you play, you're still improving. It's not something that is stagnant. There's always a reason. You have to get better. I love that... The competition keeps you growing. You have to get better if you want to stay relevant."
Another player who knows a bit about that is Venus's sister Serena, absent from Wimbledon on maternity leave this year. The elder Williams admitted that she missed both her younger sister and her father, but said she could still feel them helping her battle through the rounds: "They're definitely here with me, for sure. Even if it's not physically, they're definitely here with me. That is one thing I do know. They're fighting right alongside me."
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