Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams rolled back the years to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals for the first time in five years on Monday, battling fatigue in a gruelling three setter.
The 34-year-old American finished strongly to win 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 and stun Polish sixth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, sealing match point with an ace to celebrate her return to the big time.
Cheered on from the stands by top-seeded sister Serena, an exhausted Venus somehow found the energy to get past highly rated Radwanska and set up a quarter-final with unseeded compatriot Madison Keys.
“In the third I think I went into a trance. I just wanted to win,” the ecstatic 18th seed said.
The win takes her 2015 record to 9-0, including winning the Auckland Classic lead-up event.
It continues a remarkable comeback from injury and a long battle with the energy-sapping Sjogren’s Syndrome, which was diagnosed in 2011.
“Now is my moment and I want to keep this moment going all year and then next year too, but it will take work,” she said.
The lanky American looked like the Venus of old early in the match, covering the court with ease to blast venomous returns and pin-point accurate winners.
Radwanska, 25, tried to tire her opponent out by extending the rallies and moving her around but admitted she was surprised at Venus’ resilience.
“Obviously she didn’t really look like a 34-year-old,” said the Pole, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park last year. “She also had tough matches before. But she was quick. She was fresh, playing very well.”
– ‘I was 19 once’-
Her win throws up the enticing prospect of the first all-Williams meeting at a Grand Slam since the 2009 Wimbledon final. The draw means the siblings would meet in the semis if they both make it through the quarters.
But first she has to get past Keys, a teenager who was only two when Venus made her first Grand Slam appearance in 1997.
“Apparently she started playing because she saw Serena and I. She started watching me when she was in diapers,” the veteran said.
“I was 19 once, I beat players who were more experienced. So at the end of the day, if you can hit the ball in the court enough times and get enough points on your side, that will be who wins, no matter what the numbers are.”
Venus clearly flagged as the match wore on, clocking up 36 unforced errors but hung on grimly.
She moved briskly in the first set, notching a hard-earned break in the seventh game that stretched more than 12 minutes and eventually taking it in just under an hour.
Radwanska hit back in the second set, benefitting from several basic mistakes when her opponent fluffed opportunities with an open court in front of her.
The turning point came after they exchanged breaks early in the third then Venus somehow wrested back momentum to break again in the fourth game.
She went on to bring up three break points but only needed one as she blasted her sixth ace of the match.