Venus Williams continues to roll back the years at the US Open, reaching the semi-finals on Tuesday night after a thrilling quarter-final clash with Petra Kvitova.
In so doing, the 37-year old became the oldest semi-finalist in the history of the US Open, and the oldest at a Grand Slam since Martina Navratilova made it into the semis at Wimbledon in 1994.
Venus edged past Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, under the lights inside Arthur Ashe Stadium in a battle between the only two Grand Slam champions remaining in the women’s draw.
This match meant a lot to me, obviously, playing at home and of course it being a major. It means a lot to her, too, coming back and being able to compete in this major and to prove obviously to herself that she could defeat anything no matter what’s thrown at her. It was amazing to see her shine today. Venus Williams
The roof was closed, adding to the sense of theatre, as the pair, meeting for the sixth time, went the full distance to resolve the issue.
Just as remarkably, last December, Kvitova’s career looked to be over following a knife attack at her home but, only eight months later, the 27-year-old had reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final since the 2015 US Open.
Kvitova, who won her second tournament back in June after her five-month layoff, lost in the second round of both the French Open and Wimbledon.
After 2 hours, 35 minutes, the No 9-seeded Williams edged past the 13th seed, 6-3 3-6 7-6(2), when the Czech sent a backhand wide to end a classic that may well have been the match of the fortnight.
“This match meant a lot to me, obviously, playing at home and of course it being a major,” Venus said.
“It means a lot to her, too, coming back and being able to compete in this major and to prove obviously to herself that she could defeat anything no matter what’s thrown at her. It was amazing to see her shine today.”
And shine they did.
Both women are over 6ft tall, Williams a right-hander and the leftie Kvitova, and they delivered brutal tennis off the ground and from their serving, so that the rallies early on were quick and decisive, although a scattering of double faults betrayed nerves on each side.
Kvitova got the early advantage to break for 3-1, but Williams then served to love and broke right back, running off the next five games with another break to close out the set, 6-3.
The Czech then roared back, gaining a quick break after which she had to fight off break point herself, thumping a forehand, throwing in a sliced drop shot, and completing the hold with a backhand winner for 3-0.
Then came a brief delay to close the roof against some advancing rain, but it did not hold up Kvitova, who aced to hold for 4-1, and she would keep her lead for the set, 6-3.
She carried her fierce momentum into the third set to break in the third game but Williams had the crowd firmly in her corner and with a steely look of determination in her eyes, she broke back in the sixth game.
The American had to dig deep in the ninth game, but found a 120mph ace to help her through two deuces to 5-4.
Kvitova did not waver, serving to love, and yet again, their contest would be decided by in a final set tiebreak.
Once Williams got the bit between her teeth, she became an irresistible force, racing to 5-1 when each woman double faulted, but Venus served it out in real style.
She made it two out of four Americans into the semi-finals and, for a spot in the final, faces her compatriot, Sloane Stephens, who beat Anastasija Sevastova in another intense third-set tiebreak by an identical margin.
Venus pondered 20 years of success and setbacks since reaching her first US Open final as she seeks her eighth Grand Slam title and third US Open crown.
It is the longest span between career Slam finals in women’s history, from the 1997 US Open to her Wimbledon loss to Garbiñe Muguruza in July.
Williams is also set to jump into the WTA rankings top five for the first time since January 2011, her highest point since she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, an immune system disorder.
If she beats Sloane Stephens on Thursday to reach Saturday’s final, Australian Open and Wimbledon runner-up Williams will reach her third Slam final of the year, a feat she so far has only achieved in 2002.
“Early 2000s, I mean, I had perfect health. It was great. I loved it,” Williams said.
“I was fortunate to have that moment in my life. And now I’m still living my dream, and it’s amazing.”
Williams won Wimbledon and the US Open in 2000 and 2001 and took three more trophies on English grass before 2011 when Sjögren’s arrived.
It took her five years before she managed to reach another Slam semi-final.
“I don’t accept limitations. So it took a while to accept some limitations,” Williams said.
“But it doesn’t mean that the glass is half empty. I saw it as half full.
“Whatever I had, I had to do the best I could with that and to be the strongest I could and be reprehensible for each and every shot I hit.”
Williams pondered how many players have had to overcome setbacks and return to champion form and the inspiration it can provide.
“Sport is a little microcosm of life and it shows the human spirit, just being out there on the court, fighting against all odds. If you’re down, you keep going,” Williams said.
“Great champions came back from injuries or circumstances they could never have planned for.
“It’s very encouraging for people to watch… You never know whose life you’ll touch just by being your best.”
There are high expectations of another sort at the edge of her thoughts, with Hurricane Irma forecast to strike near her Florida home at the weekend.
“I haven’t watched Irma closely but perhaps I should know more,” Williams said. “I have a lot of family and important people in Florida and my whole life is there.”
First, she will turn her attention to Stephens, who won their only prior meeting in the first round of the 2015 French Open.
“I have to focus on what’s happening on my side of the court, make evaluations when I’m out there in terms of strategy and see what’s working,” Williams said.
The American can reach the World No 2 spot if she goes on to win her third US Open title, and first since 2001.