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Venus, Vandeweghe have something to prove

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 1/24/2017
Venus, Vandeweghe have something to prove © Aaron Favila, AP Venus, Vandeweghe have something to prove

MELBOURNE — It’s not often that a sports superstar stays in the game long enough to receive accolades as the oldest to achieve a great milestone. 

At 36 years old, Venus Williams created that scenario for herself on a glorious Tuesday afternoon when she became the oldest women’s player to ever reach the Australian Open semifinals. Just for the record, if 35-year-old sister, Serena, also ventures into the semifinals on Wednesday, she will become the second oldest player to attain Australian Open semifinal status. 

The 13th-seeded Venus Williams moved on in grand style by scoring a 6-4, 7-6 (3) quarterfinal win over 24th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia at Melbourne Park. If the fans were impressed, Williams was thrilled, flashing a smile as bright as the Australian summer sun that was shining down on her from above.

“I’m just trying to live the dream,” she said. “To me, the semifinals is a steppingstone, just like the other rounds. It’s an opportunity to advance. The tournament is by no means over. It’s definitely down to the business end. I feel like I’m playing the kind of tennis I want to produce, the results that I want.”

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A seven-time Grand Slam champion, Williams is into an Australian Open semifinal for the first time in 14 years. She’ll be working the first stage of the “business end” of the tournament against fellow American Coco Vandeweghe in the semifinals. 

The unseeded 25-year-old Vandeweghe advanced to her first career Grand Slam semifinal with a stunning 6-4, 6-0 quarterfinal upset over reigning French Open champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain. 

“What a wonderful result,” said Williams, of the all-American semifinal that looms ahead on Thursday. “It’s a great win for the U.S. To have that thought that there’s going to be at least one U.S. player in the final is great for American tennis.”

Williams is not at all delusional and doesn’t anticipate Vandeweghe just willingly stepping aside. She understands that at the moment  Vandeweghe is feeling a bit invincible, having already wreaked havoc on the draw. Vandeweghe not only put out Muguruza, but she sent shockwaves through the tournament when she cast aside world No. 1 Angelique Kerber in a straight-set showing in the fourth round. 

“I’m sure she’s going to want to be in her first final,” said Williams, who won the only previous match she’s played against Vandeweghe. “I’m going to want to be in only my second final here. So it’s going to be a well-contested match.”

There’s no question that Vandweghe, an incredible athlete and a member of the Vandeweghe family known as basketball royalty via her late grandfather, Ernie, and uncle, Kiki, has her designs on a shot at the title. 

“I want to keep going, keep playing,” she said. “There’s more things to do out on a tennis court that I’m hoping to achieve.”

The 35th-ranked Vandweghe is known as a streaky player, but when she kicks her game into gear she often operates on overdrive. Courtesy of the Kerber and Muguruza wins at Melbourne Park, Vandewghe’s now beaten 10 players ranked in the top 10 during her career.

“Maybe I play better nervous and scared,” Vandeweghe said. “I think I don’t shy away from a challenge. I never have. Growing up I’ve always just been wanting to prove people wrong in a lot of different regards.”

But just like Vandeweghe, Williams has plenty to prove at this Australian Open. 

A five-time Wimbledon and two-time U.S. Open champion, Williams only reached the Australian Open final once, in 2003, where she clashed with Serena, who grabbed the first of her record six Australian Open trophies on the occasion. 

It’s been a long while since Williams won her last Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2008, which is also the last time she ventured to a Grand Slam final. But after earning her place in this Australian Open semifinals she isn’t satisfied enough to feel ready to go home. 

“Why shouldn’t I?” she said, when asked if she believes she can win an eighth Grand Slam title at this Australian Open. “I try to believe. Should I look across the net and believe the person across the net deserves it more? This mentality is not how champions are made. ... The mentality I walk on court with is: I deserve this.”

PHOTOS: 2017 AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Coco Vandeweghe celebrates her victory against Garbine Muguruza during their women's singles quarterfinal match during the Australian Open on Jan. 24. Best shots from the 2017 Australian Open

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