By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Venus Williams continued her astonishing late-career revival by felling Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4 7-6(3) on Tuesday to reach her first Australian Open semi-final in 14 years and become the oldest woman to reach the last four at Melbourne Park in the professional era.
The quarter-final will hardly be remembered as a classic, with both Venus and the 24th-ranked Russian surrendering serve with alarming regularity despite perfect conditions for tennis at Rod Laver Arena.
In the end it was 36-year-old Venus’ experience that proved decisive when the pressure rose, and Pavlyuchenkova crumbled with a double-fault on match point to boost the American’s hopes of a maiden title at Melbourne Park.
“Oh my gosh I’m so excited,” said the seven-times grand slam champion after closing out the one hour and 48-minute tussle. “I want to go further. I’m not happy just with this.
“I’m just so excited that I have another opportunity to play again.”
Following her run at Wimbledon, 13th seed Venus has now made the semi-finals at two of the last three grand slams.
She was 22 when she last made the semi-finals at Melbourne, during a run to the 2003 final where she was beaten by younger sister Serena, the current world number two, in three sets.
Venus will play an all-American semi-final against Coco Vandeweghe, who thrashed former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza 6-4 6-0 in the following quarter-final at Rod Laver Arena.
The mouthwatering prospect of a repeat of the 2003 final against Serena beckons if the second seed can get there as well.
Venus has stormed through the Melbourne Park draw without losing a set and was never truly threatened by Pavlyuchenkova who let herself down with nine double-faults.
Both players struggled to hold serve but Pavlyuchenkova buckled at the bigger moments.
When serving at 5-4 to stay in the first set, she double-faulted and butchered a forehand to offer three set points.
Venus needed only one, hammering a backhand return down the line and giving a yelp in triumph.
There was no more resilience on serve in the second set, with both players trading breaks to move to 4-4.
Pavlyuchenkova double-faulted to fall back to 0-30 at 6-5, two points from elimination, but bravely rallied to take Williams into a tie break.
The Russian led 3-1 before it all fell apart.
She double-faulted to allow Venus to draw level and the American spanked a huge return down the line to edge ahead.
Venus hammered a forehand winner to bring up three match points and Pavlyuchenkova surrendered the match meekly with her ninth double-fault.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford/Amlan Chakraborty)