When the 2017 version of the Australian Open draw came out, if you were a fan of Venus Williams, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Coco Vandeweghe, I bet you had no idea that these 3 women would be three quarters of the final four women standing in Melbourne. Just about everyone had Serena Williams pencilled in so for her to make the final four is in my opinion not outside the norm.
Each woman has their own compelling story to tell
Venus Williams – 36 years old young and playing some of the best tennis of her life. She has not been to this round of the Australian Open since her run to the final in 2003, approximately 13 years ago. Everyone knows the story of Venus. Her struggles through Sjorgen’s Syndrome. Her early exits from this particular tournament. The many injuries that has kept her from playing, and in one case, led to her retiring, to a chorus of boos from the fans who were looking forward to a match against the hard hitting Andrea Petkovic a few years ago. Venus, when asked by Rennae Stubbs earlier this year how does she manage to overcome these younger players and triumph, said “girl, I don’t know but I do know how to play tennis”. I think we can all agree that Venus does know how to play tennis. Venus will take on
Coco Vandeweghe – the youngest of the 4 semifinalists, Vandeweghe has not endeared herself to tennis fans, partly due to her on court demeanour, but more about her support of Donald Trump. In fact, Vandeweghe has never been a fan favourite and she has now cemented herself to be among those players who tennis fans abhor, similar to what Ryan Harrison and John Isner have managed to do. Forgetting about her ill advised politics for a moment, Vandeweghe has the game that can trouble Venus if she is not on her game. She has been moving well, hitting her backhand with depth and being mentally tough in the big moments. In her match against Bouchard, she showed resilience in coming back from a break down in the third set and holding her ground through a multiple deuce game to hold and then break serve to finish the match. In her match against Kerber, she simply outplayed the World’s No. 1, hitting with pace and depth. I expect that she will try to do the same against Venus, and perhaps she may be successful. However, she has never been to this end of a Grand Slam before and I expect Venus to use her considerable amount of experience and tennis skills to overcome this challenge and make her way to the Australian Open final.
In the bottom half of the draw stands the story of the tournament (no disrespect Venus fans, including myself), but is there a better story in tennis right now than Mirjana Lucic-Baroni? We have all heard the tale of players coming back from multiple injury breaks (Andrea Petkovic), players who were close to giving up (Szhai Zheng) and players who had to endure abuse (Jelena Dokic), but who persevered for one more chance. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is all those players and then some. Consider that Lucic-Baroni had not won a match at the Australian Open in 17 years. Consider that for almost 10 years she never competed on the WTA Tour. Consider that she suffered considerable alleged abuse at the hands of her father and that many people turned a blind eye to this abuse. Consider then that after 17 years, Lucic-Baroni has made her way to the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament. She took out the No. 5 seed, and many people’s pick to win it all, Karolina Pliskova. For her troubles, she gets
Serena Williams. I admit that I was anxious about the match between Konta and Serena. Not because I felt that Konta had the game to beat Serena, but that Serena would become anxious about the match, start spraying errors and lose. That was not to be. The narrative that I am seeing is that Serena was more focused because she knew the strength of her opponent. I beg to differ. I think Serena was what she always is at the tail end of Grand Slams. More focused. Her game is more honed. She plays as close to perfection as only she can.
During most of Konta’s matches, her confidence is overflowing. In her match last night against Serena, the looks to her box, the hands in the air and the inability to hit through Serena proved her undoing. At the end of the day, Serena won because she is the better player and Konta, as much weapons as she has, was just not able to maintain her game for any stretch of time. I suspect it will be back to the drawing board for her and her new coach Wim Fissette.
Venus over Coco
Serena over Mirjana
Venus over Serena