Courtney Nguyen, Point: Venus Williams is a win away from becoming the oldest woman in the Open Era to win Wimbledon, move to No.1 in the Porsche Race to Singapore Leaderboard, and return to the Top 5 for the first time since January 2011. Playing in her second Slam final of the season and first at Wimbledon since 2009, the five-time champion here at the All England Club is in the midst of her best season in over a decade. The last time Venus made two Slam finals in a single season was in 2003.
There is much to celebrate with this result given what the 37-year-old has endured over the last six years since being diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome. In writing this preview it's been difficult to steer away from the sentimentality of what this all means and just how inspiring it all is.
But Venus isn't done. There is still tennis to be played. And so, like Venus, we focus on the tennis.
When Venus booked her spot in her ninth Wimbledon final with her best performance of the fortnight, a 6-4, 6-2 win over No.6 seed Johanna Konta in the semifinals, there was no over-the-top celebration. The smile was broad and satisfied, but unlike at the Australian Open earlier this year, making the final was not enough.
On Saturday, Venus won't have to go through her sister to get the trophy. Not since 2007 has Venus faced someone other than Serena in a major final. That year she beat Marion Bartoli to win her fourth Venus Rosewater Dish.
"I feel very focused still," Venus said after the semifinal. "There's still a lot to be done. I have one more match that I'd like to be the winner of. I have to go out there and take it and play well. 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."
Venus leads the head-to-head 3-1 over Muguruza, but the key to their upcoming match is the American's impeccable offensive form over the fortnight. Venus comes into the match having gone through a series of some of the biggest hitters in the game, beating Naomi Osaka, Ana Konjuh, Jelena Ostapenko, and Konta without losing a set. Her forehand has done the damage, hitting 49 winners to 35 unforced off that wing (in contrast, she has hit 26 winners and 41 unforced off the backhand). Overall, she has hit more winners (143) and aces (28) than Muguruza as well.
Venus has been protecting her second serve well all tournament. It's the shot that has typically been attackable due to her tendency to spin it into the middle of the box, but again, against a series of attacking players, she won 65% of her second serve points against Konta, 48% against Ostapenko, 47% against Konjuh, and 61% against Osaka. Perhaps the most illustrative point played to illustrate just how confident Venus has become in her second serve was the 106mph second serve she fired past Konta down break point late in the first set.
Against one of the best servers in the game in Konta, Venus' return game was near-perfect. She'll have even more looks against Muguruza's serve, which has topped out at 110mph during the tournament, averaging 99mph on first serve, and 83mph on second serve. Venus' return position has been aggressive, taking first serves on the baseline and well inside the baseline on second serve. Muguruza has been broken just four times in the tournament, but she has yet to face a player with Venus' aggressive return game.
Muguruza's dominant tournament has been built around her clutch play -- she has saved 18 of 22 break points - and swarming net play. The Spaniard has been able to get into the net 129 times, compared to Venus' 84 approaches. But will Muguruza be able to employ her net game in the face of Venus' power? Here's Venus explaining why she's employed a more baseline tactic during the tournament:
Look for Venus to keep the points short against Muguruza, who has proven to be the more consistent player in extended rallies. The Spaniard's forehand has been the more inconsistent wing -- she has hit 27 winners to 45 unforced errors - and Venus should have the confidence to go forehand to forehand with her to break it down to earn errors.
If Venus continues to power down her serve, especially her incredibly effective body serve, and force Muguruza into forehand rallies, it will be an uphill battle for the Spaniard.
David Kane, Counterpoint: There’s plenty of history surrounding Venus Williams’ inspiring run to her ninth Wimbledon final. The 37-year-old finds herself on the precipice of a sixth lap around Centre Court, holding aloft the trophy that bears her name.
But when history faces youth, it rarely comes out victorious. In the last three major finals to feature this wide of an age gap, the younger player has only dropped one set, which happened back in 1994 when Spanish star Conchita Martinez outlasted 37-year-old Martina Navratilova in her final Wimbledon run.
Martinez has been a prominent fixture at the All England Club during the fortnight, stepping in for coach Sam Sumyk and his protégé, Garbiñe Muguruza.
“I think she's helping me how to deal with the tournament, because obviously it's a Grand Slam, and it's difficult to handle because it's two weeks,” she said during a pre-final press conference. “She has experience.”
Calm as Martinez has kept her charge through six matches, the former French Open champion is eager to back her talent at the end of an emphatic event that where she won 12 of 13 sets so far, only losing serve four times.
“Well, I think I'm here because I've done a hard work before. The magic doesn't happen just because somebody comes in, and all of a sudden you are incredible.”
It’s a striking display of confidence from the Spaniard, who was almost overwhelmed by her abilities in the aftermath of a similarly stunning two weeks in Paris last spring.
“I feel like I kind of am made for these tournaments,” she said after an emotional fourth round loss to Kristina Mladenovic. “I love going out there and perform.
“It's gonna sound weird, but I'm actually happy that this stage kind of the year is done. I wanted to go as far as possible. But even though I didn't, I think I'm going to feel much better now to continue the year, and everybody is going to stop bothering me asking me about this tournament, so it's going to be a little bit like, ‘Whew, let's keep going.’”
The 23-year-old has been true to her word, gathering steady momentum to reach the semifinals of the Aegon Classic before shifting into that Slam-winning gear at Wimbledon, where she earned hard-fought victories over top seed Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova before dismantling surprise semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova in just over an hour.
Rybarikova led the final four every major return stat heading into the semifinals, and her tricky grass court game was poised to be a perfect foil for one who wondered aloud earlier in the tournament how she’d ever made a major final on such a surface.
“I'm different, but not very different,” she said on Friday. “It's not a long time ago. I think my mind is more equipped this time because the more experience you get, the more you know how to deal with these situations, because they're very special. If you felt it before, it's really helpful.
“I just have more information about the situation.”
A former World No.2, Muguruza will know plenty about her next opponent, having played her four times, but only twice since she reached her maiden major final back in 2015. Their lone encounter this season was on clay, which favored the Spaniard, but her three-set win at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia nonetheless an important win - particularly heading into such a high-stakes occasion.
“I think we both know and felt how our games are. She just loves to play and she enjoys going out there. At least it's what it shows, to keep playing, even though she has already achieved so many things.
“She's still motivated to go for more, which is also very surprising."
It must be hard to imagine for a player on the other end of the spectrum with renewed desire and plenty of belief, but also one who won’t be satisfied to merely be a footnote on a Venusian fairytale.
“I definitely want to win, for sure. It’s very different to hold the trophy. When I made the final in 2015, and I won the French Open, I could feel the difference between winning a Grand Slam and not winning. I think it's a huge difference.
“So I definitely want to be the one who takes the big one.”
The big one will require more flawless serving, which will unlock the rest of her game, and fearless returns, especially in the face of Venus’ faultless deliveries.
Such daunting asks hardly seemed to faze Muguruza, who seemed to be in a singular mindset ahead of her third major final: at my best, I’m tough to beat.
“I think we both have a very aggressive games. I think the serve is going to be very important, because she has a pretty big serve. I try to have a big one, as well.
“I’ll try not to change a lot of things because I think my game, if I have a good level, it's very good to go out there and have a lot of chances to win.”
The French Open final saw youth conquer experience with laser-like precision; look for Muguruza to blend the memories of past major triumph with the motivation to prove she deserves her own place in tennis history.
“I feel like people have expectations on me. Maybe there's a few players are playing better, and maybe they look better for the trophy or something. But I feel like every time I go to a tournament, I have the weapons to reach the final rounds.
“Hopefully people always see me as an option to win.”