“If I could turn back time, if I could find a way” so said one of the greatest recording artistes of all time, Cher. In much the same way that the name Cher invokes timelessness in music, so does the name Venus brings back reminders of championship days gone by.
Yesterday’s quarterfinal match between 34 year old, soon to be 35 year old Venus Williams against WTA rising star, Madison Keys was a juxtaposition of the past of women’s tennis, playing side by side with the future. It is the definition of irony that the player on whose game and persona Madison Keys is built is the person who she calmly took down in the quarters of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.
I am a fan of both players, but I love Venus. She is the reason why I fell in love with this sport. In much the same way that Keys saw Venus wearing a dress and wanted to pick up a racquet, I saw Venus in a hoodie, her eyes downcast, looking forlorn in a crowd of over 15,000 tennis fans, watching from the sidelines as her little sister Serena won her first Grand Slam title. It was a face that would haunt me for years as all I could think to myself was how lonely must she be feeling and how devastated must she be that she, the leader, the one who went before, the one who had to take all that abuse from tennis fans, fellow players, why could it not be her holding up that trophy and jumping for joy. Instead, there she was hiding under a hoodie and trying to appear invisible.
On Rod Laver Arena, Venus was anything but invisible. For a time she looked like her old self again. She was firing her huge serve, and moving around the court and bringing up reminders of 2001 when she was at the top of her game and no ball was safe from her racquet. On this day however, there was a younger, faster and more agile version of herself.
Many, including me, will say that Venus had her chances in this match. However, credit has to be given to Keys for hitting out when she had the chance and not only taking her opportuntiies but making them as well. Keys will next have the opportunity to do what not many players have been able to do, defeat both Williams Sisters at the same event. If she does it, she will be like Ekaterina Makarova, defeat both Williams Sisters without being No. 1.
In the other quarterfinal, Serena Williams shows why she has won this title 5 times and why she has 18 of these trophies in her trophy room. Despite suffering from a cough, Serena put on a masterclass against last year’s finalist, Dominka Cibulkova. How dominating was this match, my puppy Billy (tennis fan) and my son (non-tennis fan) and my house guest (non-tennis fan), were stopped in their tracks during one particular rally. My son had his mouth open and my puppy was definitely speechless.
So, the semifinals are set. It will be Russia v. USA in the final. This is like the Cold War all over again. Let us hope that there are no international incidents Down Under.