During one scorching stretch in the past eight days, Venus Williams tore through three consecutive opponents born in 1997, never losing a set.
That was the year Williams made her Wimbledon debut.
Considering the extreme demands of reaching the top of the tennis world — both physical and mental — that the 37-year-old Williams is back in the women’s singles final borders on the miraculous.
The five-time Wimbledon winner, who first learned the sport on the courts of Compton, will face Spain’s Garbine Muguruza on Saturday with another championship and history on the line.
Williams has a chance to overtake her younger sister, Serena, as the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam event in the Open Era, which began in 1968. Defending Wimbledon champion Serena Williams, currently on a pregnancy hiatus, set that record by winning this year’s Australian Open at 35 years, 125 days.
“It should be the biggest story ever if Venus wins this,” said Lindsay Davenport, who won Wimbledon in 1999 and is now a Tennis Channel analyst. “In women’s tennis, it’s just amazing that she’s able to do what she’s done.”
Williams is the oldest woman to reach a Wimbledon singles final since Martina Navratilova — who was 230 days older — was runner-up to Conchita Martinez in 1994.
There’s a parallel story to Williams’ on the men’s side, with 18-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer advancing to Sunday’s men’s final against Croatia’s Marin Cilic. Federer, 35, is not only looking to become the first man to win eight Wimbledon titles but the oldest man in the Open Era to win a final here.
“I’m not sure exactly what his experience has been,” Williams said of Federer. “Mine may have been a little bit different than his. But obviously you can play this game for a while if you love it, you put in the work and stay healthy. So those are definitely similarities.”
The road back to the top has been a bumpy one for Williams, who last was in the Wimbledon final eight years ago when she lost the championship to her sister — something that also happened in 2002 and ’03. Six years ago, she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease causing chronic fatigue and muscle soreness. Part of her treatment involved adopting a vegan raw food diet to help reduce inflammation and the energy-draining symptoms of the ailment.
Williams was involved in a fatal car crash June 9 near her home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The initial police report said she had run a red light in her Toyota Sequoia just as a Hyundai Accent driven by Linda Barson entered the intersection on a green light. Barson’s car ran into the side of Williams’ SUV, and Jerome Barson, 78, a passenger in his wife’s car, sustained major injuries. He died 13 days later.
Although initial reports indicated Williams was at fault, authorities later said that video evidence showed she had legally entered the intersection where the collision occurred. In the video, Williams appeared to slow to avoid a car making a left turn in front of her, then proceeded through the intersection when her vehicle was struck.
After winning her first-round match at Wimbledon, Williams broke down in tears at the news conference that followed. She said she was “heartbroken” and there were “no words to describe how devastating” the crash was. She attempted to regain her composure before telling the moderator, “Maybe I should go,” and then left the room.
It was a rare and revealing display of emotion by a player typically seen as pleasant but often careful and guarded in her answers.
Mostly, her opponents and other competitors have been reverential in their praise of Williams, whose last Grand Slam title came here in 2008 when she beat her sister in straight sets.
“I think she just loves to play and she enjoys going out there,” Muguruza said. “At least it’s what it shows. Keep playing, even though she’s achieved so many things. She’s still motivated to go for more, which is also very surprising.
“For me, it’s incredible. I don’t think I could be 37 and playing that level.”
Muguruza, 23, is no pushover. She won the French Open last year, and was runner-up to Serena Williams at Wimbledon the year before. In her semifinal match Thursday, she tore through Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-1, 6-1.
Throughout this tournament, Muguruza has lost only one set, to top-ranked Angelique Kerber. She now has three career wins over a reigning world No. 1, having defeated Serena Williams at the French Open in 2014 and ’16. There’s little doubt Muguruza is at the top of her game.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” she said. “I think it’s a good moment right now. It goes very fast, so I’m trying to enjoy. The previous times, you know, you’re so concentrated that you cannot enjoy as well.”
If Williams is slowing down to savor the moments, she isn’t saying so. She knows how to focus on the task at hand.
“I’m definitely in the position I want to be in,” she said. “It’s a long two weeks. Now, you know, knocking on the door for a title. This is where I want to be. So I’m definitely excited. But there’s still more to happen.”
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