Why did we ever doubt Venus Williams in the first place?

LONDON -- At first glance, the Wimbledon women's final will be a straightforward affair. Venus Williams against Garbine Muguruza brings us two of the hardest, flattest hitters in the game. Body blows will be thrown until one of them succumbs. Deftness will not rule the day. The winner will most likely be the player slamming the most winners, forcing the most mistakes, winging the most aces.

It's the story behind the first glance that gives this match intrigue. For all of Muguruza's prodigious talents, the plotline going into the last match is clear: The entire stage belongs to Venus.

Who could have dreamed any of her career? And who could have dreamed this, her latest act?

Despite her unexpected run to the 2017 Australian Open finals, nothing was expected of her here. Not after her mediocre post-Melbourne results. Not as she played without the comforting familiarity provided by sister Serena -- who has stayed home to prepare for motherhood. Not as Venus deals with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, Sjogren's syndrome, which since 2011 has contributed to a Grand Slam record laced with early-round defeat.

And not as she faced recent tragedy. In June, she was involved in a Florida traffic accident. Her SUV was T-boned at an intersection. An elderly passenger in another vehicle died. Williams wasn't found at fault, but the image of the early Wimbledon press conference in which she struggled through tears when asked about the accident is among this fortnight's most searing and unforgettable memories.

By now, given all she has overcome, all of her probability-defying accomplishments -- the greatest being the rise with her sister from Compton, California, to dominance in a wealthy, nearly all-white sport -- one would think Venus Williams would never be overlooked. Yet for much of Wimbledon 2017, particularly after ragged opening matches in which she seemed weighed down by emotion, few gave her much of a chance.

We should have known better. Oh, how we should have known.

Saturday's final offers Williams another chance to add to a gilded Wimbledon history. In 1997, at 17, she played her first match here, a three-set loss to Magdalena Grzybowska. "I was so nervous, it was a total disaster," she recalled this week. From then to now, the memories cascade. So many of them intertwined with Serena. The singles crown in 2008. The tough finals loss in 2009. The six occasions when they hoisted the doubles trophy.

Remember the semis of 2000? After beating Serena, who was 18 at the time, Venus was still on Centre Court when she looked at kid sister's sorrowful face. Venus picked up Serena's bag, flung an arm around her shoulder and walked her off. "Let's get out of here," she whispered.

Who knows how the end of her career will play out, but the fact remains that she is 37. The Sjogren's syndrome is tough to deal with. She already has a head full of interests and big plans for the future. This might be her last time, her last moment alone on the main stage -- even as the presence of Serena continues to loom.

"I miss her so much," Venus said moments after she had reached the final by beating Britain's Johanna Konta on Thursday. Venus said they've been in constant contact, though she wouldn't divulge anything about the strategy they discuss.

"I try to take the same courage on the court that she would have," she said. "Do the things she would do. Be inspired by it."