Grande dame of tennis Venus Williams teaches younger foe tough lesson

LONDON -- The first ball struck told the story. Venus Williams corked her shoulders, flung her legs toward the sky and unleashed a scorcher of a serve, right down the T. It was an ace, and the sound of it whooshed across Centre Court, signaling that this would be a painful afternoon for Williams' young opponent, Jelena Ostapenko.

Seventy-three minutes later, after Williams put on a display of firepower that stirred peak-moment memories of her 20 years here, the match was over. The Wimbledon scoreboard, which read 6-3, 7-5, was covered by the stadium's retractable roof on a rain-swept day.

This was a clean and efficient performance, on a day that could have been a muddy slog. At 37, the grande dame of Wimbledon is on to the semifinals. She faces a tough test in British No. 1 Johanna Konta, but at a tournament devoid of the women's tour's biggest star -- sister Serena Williams, out on maternity leave -- anything seems possible.

Venus Williams has rarely looked more commanding at Wimbledon than she did Tuesday at Centre Court. She nosed in front early and never let up. The covered court, stilling the air and encouraging ever forceful play, certainly helped. Ostapenko, the surprise champion at the French Open last month, did her best to keep things close but could never edge ahead.

When it was over, both women summed up the result succinctly:

"She started the match good," said the Latvian Ostapenko, in clipped and accented English. "She made a lot of aces. I just couldn't really play my best."

Said Williams in the typically reticent manner in which she addresses the media: "I never played her. [I] watched her. Didn't really know what to expect. The grass changes the game.

"I was really happy to come out on top."

To cut even more quickly to the chase, the plotline for Williams in this match -- indeed for her entire tournament so far -- is simple: Age trumped youth.

For the fourth time at this year's tournament, Williams stared across the grass at an opponent born in the middle 1990s. Ostapenko was a toddler in 1997, when Williams played her first Wimbledon. The 20-year-old admitted before the match that she simply couldn't muster many memories of the Venus who strode atop the tennis world in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When thinking of a Williams, Ostapenko said her memories are of Serena -- the younger sister whose aggressive groundstrokes the Latvian would mimic growing up.

Funny how time works. In 1997, Venus was slated to be the Williams who would end up vying to become history's greatest women's player. Now she has five Wimbledon singles titles and a total of seven career singles Grand Slam titles. But she will forever be overshadowed by a sibling who has gone on to own 23 Slams of her own.

Imagine for a moment if there had been no Serena Williams, greatest of all time. How many Slams would Venus hold? How many would she have won at Wimbledon? It was at the All England Club that Venus last took home a Grand Slam title -- in 2008, when she beat Serena in straight sets. After that, the younger sister laid down the hammer, ending Venus' deep tournament runs in all five of their next Grand Slam meetings, most recently in the surprise Australian Open final early this year.

Australia showcased Serena's unwavering talent and Venus' unerring desire for competition -- a zest for the fight that is showing itself once again.

"I feel quite capable, to be honest, and powerful," Venus said. "As long as I feel like that, then I know that I can contend for titles every time."