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Venus ‘living the dream’ as Coco awaits in Australian Open semi

Venus Williams of the US celebrates her Australian Open quarter-final win over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, in Melbourne, on January 24, 2017 © AFP / GREG WOOD

Melbourne, Australia, Jan 24 – Age-defying Venus Williams says she is living the dream after making yet another Grand Slam semi-final Tuesday, setting up an all-American clash against a rampant Coco Vandeweghe.

The 36-year-old powered past Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) and into her third Australian Open semi, while Vandeweghe stunned French Open champion Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-0 in a blitz of big hitting.

“What can I say. Just trying to live the dream,” Williams said of her longevity, after becoming the oldest woman since a 37-year-old Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon 1994 to make a Slam semi.

“I have no exact answer, except I do know how to play tennis, so that’s helpful. If you can get the ball in, it’s even more helpful.”

It is a remarkable feat for Williams, who made her professional debut in 1994 and is enjoying a late-career renaissance following a long battle with a rare autoimmune disorder.

She made the same round at Wimbledon last year but had not got this far at Melbourne Park since 2003, when she beat Justine Henin only to lose to sister Serena in the final.

Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova hits a return against Venus Williams of the US during their Australian Open quarter-final match, in Melbourne, on January 24, 2017 © AFP / PAUL CROCK

Henin is long retired but Serena is still going strong and plays her quarter-final, against Johanna Konta, on Wednesday, with an all-Williams title match still on the cards.

Venus Williams also made the last four at Melbourne in 2001, losing to then world number one Martina Hingis, another veteran who is playing doubles at this year’s Australian Open.

Despite surprise-package Vandeweghe showing imperious form, Williams is brimming with confidence and believes she can go on to win her first Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2008.

“Why shouldn’t I? I try to believe. Should I look across the net and believe the person across the net deserves it more?” she said.

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“This mentality is not how champions are made. I’d like to be a champion, in particular this year. The mentality I walk on court with is: I deserve this.”

The seven-time Grand Slam winner is yet to drop a set in Melbourne and was composed against Pavlyuchenkova, who had knocked out 11th seed Elina Svitolina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded eight, on her way to the quarter-finals.

But Vandeweghe will be a different proposition.

– ‘It’s not over’ –

Coco Vandeweghe of the US celebrates her Australian Open quarter-final victory against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, in Melbourne, on January 24, 2017 © AFP / WILLIAM WEST

Vandeweghe, like Williams one of the tallest women on the circuit at 6ft 1ins (1.85 metres), she is supremely confident and in fine touch, having stunned world number one Angelique Kerber before upsetting Muguruza.

“I really wasn’t feeling great out there. I was nervous… I was second-guessing myself,” said the 25-year-old, whose mother was an Olympic swimmer and whose grandfather played basketball for the New York Knicks.

“But I kept the pressure on and she finally cracked. Once I got rolling in the second set it was like a freight train, you couldn’t stop it.”

It is now Vandeweghe’s best performance at a major, bettering her quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon in 2015.

The right-hander, ranked 35, has a reputation for inconsistency and she lost seven of her last 10 matches at the end of 2016. But she has in brilliant form so far this year.

She has a booming serve and phenomenal groundstrokes, with a game suited to the fast and hard courts of the Australian Open.

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Williams though has no intention of being intimidated, particularly with the prospect of meeting sister Serena once again in a major final.

“To me, the semi-finals is a stepping stone, just like the other rounds. It’s an opportunity to advance,” she said.

“The tournament is by no means over.”

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