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Age-defying Venus Williams ends Grand Slam final drought

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Venus Williams of the US celebrates her Australian Open semi-final victory against compatriot Coco Vandeweghe, in Melbourne, on January 26, 2017 © AFP / PETER PARKS

MELBOURNE, Australia, Jan 26 – Venus Williams rolled back the years to battle into her first Grand Slam final since 2009 Thursday, brushing off the dangerous Coco Vendeweghe at the Australian Open.

The focused 36-year-old was imperious in banishing her power-hitting fellow American 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena, striking a blow for the tennis old guard.

In making the decider, she becomes the oldest finalist at Melbourne Park in the Open era, joining a select list of 30-somethings to get that far including Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

The 13th seed also bags the record for the longest wait between major finals at seven-and-a-half years, following her last appearance in the 2009 Wimbledon final.

“This means so much, especially because she played so well, I had to play defence for so long,” said Williams, who screamed and performed pirouettes after clinching the win.

Coco Vandeweghe of the US reacts after scoring a point against compatriot Venus Williams during their Australian Open semi-final match, in Melbourne, on January 26, 2017 © AFP / GREG WOOD

“There was never a moment of relaxation ever, so to be able to get to the final through a match like this I’m just — I’m excited about American tennis as well.

“It means so much, growing up all I wanted was to have an opportunity to play the tournaments. It’s like more than a cherry on top, more than I dreamed of.”

Despite winning seven Grand Slams and being a seven-time runner-up, Williams has only ever made the final in Melbourne once before — in 2003, when she lost in three sets to sister Serena.

Another all-Williams final is on the cards with Serena the hot favourite to beat unseeded Croat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the other semi-final late Thursday.

“More than anything I’d love to see Serena across the net from me on Saturday,” said Venus.

Venus Williams has consistently said in Melbourne she has nothing to prove and was simply “living the dream”, and her relaxed approach has paid dividends.

– Kept her cool –

It was the feisty Vandeweghe, ranked 35, who pounced early, working four break points and going 1-0 up when Williams netted a forehand in her opening service game.

But Williams soon settled and she began to dictate from the baseline, handling the 25-year-old’s powerful serve well.

A stretching crosscourt forehand winner gave her a break point in the next game and a double fault from Vandeweghe put them level at 1-1.

Efficient serving from both players took the match to 6-6, with the two trading powerful groundstrokes without being able to find an opening in a tense struggle.

Vandeweghe was moving well and it was Williams who blinked first as the younger American took the tiebreak, pumping her fist and letting out a yell.

But it didn’t phase the veteran, who continued to pick her shots well and conserve energy, with Vandeweghe showing frustration when Williams broke to go 2-1 ahead in the second set, slamming her racquet to the ground.

Williams’ long experience came to the fore. She remained calm and composed and as Vandeweghe struggled with her serve, she went 4-1 ahead with another break.

Vandeweghe’s frustrations were showing and she belted a ball into the crowd, but escaped a warning. The Williams serve was powerful and on its mark as she took the second set in 38 minutes to level the match.

Williams was getting extraordinary angles on her returns and she decisively broke the younger American’s serve in the third set to take a 1-0 lead.

It was the only chance she needed, keeping her cool in the pressure-cooker atmosphere to write another chapter in her lengthy career, winning on her fourth match point.

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