Past, not crowd, favors Williams against Konta at Wimbledon
LONDON — If past success were all that mattered when Venus Williams faces Johanna Konta in the Wimbledon semifinals, the matchup would be quite a mismatch.
For Williams, Thursday’s semifinal will be her 10th at the All England Club. For Konta, it’ll be her first — and the first for any British woman in 39 years.
For Williams, it’ll be the 22nd Grand Slam semifinal of her career. For Konta, her second.
“I definitely think experience helps, for sure. For a lot of the players I’ve played, it’s their first time in the third round or the quarterfinals (or) fourth round,” said the 37-year-old Williams, who is making her 20th Wimbledon appearance. “So I have an opportunity to bank on experience in having dealt with those sort of pressures before.”
One more discrepancy: Williams is aiming for a sixth Wimbledon singles championship and eighth overall at major tournaments. Konta owns zero such trophies.
“What Venus and her sister have given our sport is absolutely tremendous. The way they’ve elevated women’s tennis is truly inspiring,” Konta said. “So I feel very excited and very humbled to be sharing the court with her again.”
The other semifinal also is rather lopsided in terms of past accomplishments: 14th-seeded Garbine Muguruza vs. 87th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova. Muguruza won the French Open last year and was the runner-up at Wimbledon in 2015. Rybarikova, in contrast, had never been past the third round at any Grand Slam tournament in 35 previous attempts.
“She’s going to be (the) favorite,” Rybarikova said. “I’m here to enjoy the match. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
They’ve played each other four times previously, each winning twice. Muguruza won the only past match at a major, 14-12 in the third set at the Australian Open in 2013. Rybarikova won the only past match on grass, 6-3, 6-1 at Birmingham in 2015.
This will be the sixth meeting between Konta and Williams. Konta won three, including at the 2016 Australian Open, where she made her only other run to a major semifinal. Williams won their most recent match, on red clay at the Italian Open in May.
“I’ve never played her on grass,” Konta noted, “so that will be a new challenge for me.”
Indeed, the slick surface lends itself to Williams’ power-based game, making her terrific serve that much tougher to handle and giving her groundstrokes extra sting.
“She’s been on these courts many, many times, over many, many years,” said Anabel Medina Garrigues, who coaches the woman Williams overwhelmed in the quarterfinals, French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. “It’s like home for her.”
Williams served at up to 119 mph (192 mph) against Ostapenko, finished with eight aces and only was broken once.
The American, the oldest Wimbledon semifinalist since Martina Navratilova was the runner-up in 1994, used body serves to tie up Ostapenko and could try that tactic again against Konta.
“It’s definitely a real asset. Been working on that serve. It’s working out for me just in time, just for these later rounds,” Williams said. “I’d like to think that I can continue to rely on that as the matches continue.”
Williams said she thinks Konta plays with “a very similar style” — which, coming from her, is certainly a compliment.
One dynamic that never existed when they’ve met in the past: Konta will have thousands of spectators pulling loudly for her at Centre Court.
“I’m sure she’s confident and determined,” Williams said. “She’s probably dealing with a different kind of pressure, playing here at home. But she seems to be handling it well.”
Virginia Wade was the last British woman to win Wimbledon, all the way back in 1977. A year later, Wade was the runner-up to Chris Evert. Since then, the locals never had a countrywoman to cheer for this late in the tournament.
“I’m just surprised,” said Wade, who sat in the Royal Box for Konta’s quarterfinal win, “it’s taken so long.”