The game of tennis has evolved into one of the most physically demanding of all sports. Improved racquet technology has resulted in more powerful ground strokes and faster paced serves. The increase in power in turn has led to the development of a more physically fit player. That being said, it is surprising that the average age of the four women semifinalists is 31.75 years. Veteran Venus Williams is the eldest of the semifinalists at 36, followed closely by her sister Serena who is 34. Russian Elena Vesnina is 29 years old and Angelique Kerber of Germany is the youngest at 28.
Semifinals for the Aged?
By the age of 31, most high level female athletes are well into retirement no longer able to compete against the younger challengers. It is not all that long ago that the WTA was dominated by teenagers. Martina Hingis won the Wimbledon title at 16 years of age and Maria Sharapova won the title at 17 years of age. Venus Williams won her first Wimbledon title at 20 years of age. Serena Williams won her first Wimbledon title at 22 years of age.
Life on the WTA tour is not easy; constant travel, constant training, and constant matches all take a toll on young players. A successful player must also learn to deal with the never-ending media attention and then the pressure of expectations; as well as the need to defend ranking points. Although the WTA imposed a limit to the number of tournaments the really young teens could play in order to prevent injury and “burn out” the dominance of the more mature is still a bit surprising.
In an era where many singles players are reluctant to take on the additional time required for doubles, it is interesting to note that three of the four semifinalists are also major doubles champions. There are numerous examples of success in doubles leading to success on the singles court. The current US Open champion, Flavia Pennetta, was a very successful doubles player prior to her big title win. Pennetta’s opponent in that final, compatriot Roberta Vinci, is also a very successful doubles player. The Williams sisters own several major doubles titles as does Elena Vesnina.
Venus Williams vs Angelique Kerber
This is a match between a holder of seven Major titles, in Venus Williams, with five of them being Wimbledon titles, and the holder of one major, this year’s Australian Open. Playing in her favorite tournament, the elder Williams is showing form reminiscent of previous title runs. Her serve has been looking solid with her head staying up throughout the motion. Typically, Williams’ double faults have come when her head and left side drop during the motion. Her sometimes vulnerable forehand has been consistent both in placement and power. Williams’ movement has been extremely impressive allowing her to cover the court efficiently both side to side and when moving forward.
Kerber has spent most of the season adjusting to life as a major title holder, struggling with the pressure of expectations. After a first round loss at Roland Garros, Kerber has bounced back in the grass season and now finds herself in the semifinals. The attacking game of Williams on grass will be a challenge for Kerber who will try to run every ball down. The opposing styles of these two players will make this an entertaining match.
Serena Williams vs Elena Vesnina
The story that is Serena Williams’ quest for a record setting number of Major titles continues. Serena has not won a major title since she won Wimbledon last year. Serena’s toughest match of this tournament came against fellow American Christina McHale. Williams won the three set match by closing it out with an impressive series of aces.
In contrast to Serena’s multitude of Major singles titles, Elena Vesnina has never before gone this deep in a Major singles tournament. Not too long ago Vesnina found herself out of the top 100 and needing to play qualifying matches of tournaments. Keeping her coaching team the same but getting married, a rededicated Vesnina still believed she had the game to win. As she enters this semifinal against Williams, Vesnina is truly enjoying her Wimbledon run. That could pose a problem for Williams. The pressure of expectations will weigh heavily on Williams and a confident Vesnina could take full advantage.