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AO Insider: Venus still overcoming great adversity, Artful Roger so happy to be healthy again

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Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 26/1/17 Venus Williams of the U.S. celebrates winning her Women's singles semi-final match against Coco Vandeweghe of the U.S.

Image credit: Reuters

ByTumaini Carayol
26/01/2017 at 16:11 | Updated 27/01/2017 at 17:22

Tumaini Carayol reports from Melbourne as the Williams sisters set up a very special family reunion.

Until today, the happiest moment of Venus Williams’ life on a tennis court could be traced back 12 years ago to the moment she tossed her racket aside and leapt to the stars.

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After defying the mutterings of pundits who claimed she was finished as a contender, and recovering from match point down to overcome Lindsay Davenport 4-6 7-6(4) 9-7 in their all-time classic 2005 Wimbledon final, her victory seemed to represent the apex of overcoming adversity, every leap to the sky further cementing the belief that she would never experience a moment of such distilled joy again.

How naive we were. With hindsight, few of her troubles in those years compared to the battles Williams has had to face since the last time she arrived in a slam final; from countless injuries including the elbow injury that almost forced her out of this year’s Australian Open, to the incurable autoimmune disease she must carry for the rest of her days. And, of course, her ever advancing age.

As Williams contemplated the adversity she had overcome to reach her first slam final in 9 years (with her 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3 victory over CoCo Vandeweghe) she seemed to lose all control of her body.

With sheer joy, emotion, and the inability to decide between the two sentiments, she genuinely seemed to forget how to carry herself. Her posture crumbled, her arms descended into spasms. When she attempted to salute the crowd, her customary twirl continued uncontrollably into a double pirouette. Venus Williams has had much to celebrate in her career, but this was nothing like anything before.

When Williams’ career finally finishes, it will be difficult to quantify all that she has achieved in these final years of persevering and succeeding through hardships. But a certain indication is seen in the fact that, the same week that yet two more of her contemporaries, Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters, will be inducted into the tennis Hall of Fame, Williams continues to overcome the greatest adversity in her career, and she’s more joyful than ever before.

Serena's class shines through

Serena Williams’ 6-2 6-1 destruction of a tired Mirjana Lucic-Baroni closed this chapter of one of the best comeback stories in tennis, a story Williams was quick to acknowledge after victory, calling the Croat inspirational as she pulled Lucic-Baroni in for a hug. It was a particularly touching scene because Lucic and the Williams sisters, along with Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, made up the generation of teenage prodigies who took tennis by storm in the ‘90s.

The pair last met in 1998, and as the sisters were enriched by their loving family while Lucic reckoned with her allegedly abusive father, their paths couldn’t have separated more dramatically since.

Williams’ victory also ensured that the greatest story in sport will endure

The statistics are obscene: Venus and Serena Williams will face each other for the ninth time in a slam final, their 28th meeting overall (Serena leads 16-11), eight years after the last all-Williams slam final, 16 years after the first, and 19 years after V. Williams and S. Williams competed for the first time at the 1998 Australian Open. Additionally, Venus hasn’t competed in an Australian Open final since her sole berth against her sister in 2003, and precisely 0 people across the world thought that, if she returned to the final of a slam, it would be in Australia.

“It definitely makes it uncomfortable,” said Serena. “But after everything that Venus has been through with her illness and stuff, I just can't help but feel like it's a win-win situation for me. I was there for the whole time. We lived together. I know what she went through. It's the one time that I really genuinely feel like no matter what happens, I can't lose, she can't lose. It's going to be a great situation.”

The Artful Roger

Thursday, January 26th will go down as the greatest exhibition of graceful ageing ever seen. Following the victories of his two sisterly contemporaries, 35-year-old Roger Federer continued to defy his own expectations by reaching the final with a 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over compatriot Stan Wawrinka. Though looking ripe for the taking mid-way through the final set, Federer composed himself and defied his lack of match-play to eke out his berth in the final.

Federer has expressed surprise at his progress throughout his run to the finals, expecting that his lack of tennis would probably eventually see him hit a wall. Rather than any great revelation, Federer’s victory was a reminder and reassurance that, through all his recent injuries, Roger Federer is unchanged. His level may waver more often, but his superiority to the players he passed en route to the final shouldn’t be doubted. In hindsight, his break can only be considered a positive.

“It was a good thing to do,” said Federer. “You can only ever do so much treatment to feel decent.

What I've just come to realise is when you don't feel well, you have too many problems going on, you just won't beat top-ten players. That's where both, I guess, Rafa and myself said: ‘Okay, enough of this already. Let's get back to 100%, enjoy tennis again, enjoy the practice. Not just practice, treatment, practice, treatment, match, treatment.’

"All the time all you're doing is fighting the fire," Federer continued. "From that standpoint, yeah, the six months definitely gave me something in return. I didn't go into a direction where I felt like I had to reorganise my life or reorganise my tennis in any way. I just wanted to get healthy again. I'm happy this week has been a good one.”

Of course, Federer’s victory means that the Australian Open stands one match away from a most miraculous pair of finals, Williams vs Williams and Nadal vs Federer.

Quote of the day

What I will say about sport, I think why people love sport so much, is because you see everything in a line," Venus Williams said. "In that moment there is no do-over, there's no retake, there is no voice-over. It's triumph and disaster witnessed in real-time. This is why people live and die for sport, because you can't fake it. You can't. It's either you do it or you don't. People relate to the champion. They also relate to the person also who didn't win because we all have those moments in our life. Is it an athlete's job to inspire? Inherently what I think athletes do at a top level inspires people, but each person takes that responsibility differently.
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