With the most dominant woman tennis player Serena Williams not competing because of her pregnancy and the resurgent Maria Sharapova not in the fray due to injury, this year's Women's Singles in Wimbledon was hyped as the most open for years. An all Czech Karolina Pliskova-Petra Kvitova final was widely anticipated, but both failed to make it to the second week. Names like those of World No.1 Angelique Kerber, second seed Simona Halep, this year's French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, Elina Svitlova and Johanna Konta were uttered as likely to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish.
But, at the end of six rounds of enthralling tennis, the names to have emerged to fight it out for the coveted trophy on Saturday in Wimbledon's Centre Court are thoseof two players who have been in the final before, one of them being there more times than the other. 5-times Wimbledon Singles title holder Venus Williams and 2015 runner-up Gabrine Muguruza will face each other in what could be a termed a dream final for both.
At 37, Venus Williams is the oldest player to have reached the final since Martina Navratilova lost in the final in 1994 and if she wins, she will be the oldest Wimbledon Women's Singles champion for 109 years. What an achievement that would be! This will also be her ninth final at Wimbledon and the first since 2009.The last time she won the title was in 2008. It is also such an incredible feat if one comes to think that she made her first appearance in Wimbledon 20 years ago and is still such a great force in women's tennis today.
On the way to the final, she had to face some young talents, some of whom were born around the time she made her debut in 1997 including this year's French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, but her experience and powerful serves and drives were too much for them to encounter. In the much awaited semi-final against Britain's Johanna Konta who was vying to be the first British woman finalist since Virginia Wade became the champion in 1977, Venus Williams showed her mettle with her calm and cool approach, commanding serves - her second serves were being blasted at speeds of over 100 mph - and drives too close to the opponent's base line making it extremely difficult for Konta to negotiate. Venus won in straight sets 6-4, 6-2 in a match lasting an hour and 13 minutes.
Her resurgence is all the more remarkable considering that she had been diagnosed with Sjogrens syndrome which can cause joint pain and drop energy level. There were speculations that she might retire as she failed to cross the first hurdle in many major tournaments. But, Venus did not give up tennis and has lately returned to her winning ways reaching the last four in Wimbledon in 2016 and the final in the Australian Open this year losing to her younger sister Serna. Her mental strength is also so admirable. Only a few weeks before this year's Wimbledon, she had been involved in a car accident in Florida, and shortly afterwards one person travelling in the other car involved in the accident died.
Garbine Muguruza, the 23-year old Spanish, will, however, be appearing in her second Wimbledon final in three years having lost to Serena Williams in 2015 in her first ever Grand Slam final. In 2016, however, she bagged the French Open title. Muguruza overcame unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets 6-1, 6-1 in the semi-final. Her victory over top seed Angelique Kerber in the last-16 was considered one of the most competitive and exciting matches this year and in the quarter-final she easily beat Svetlena Kuznetsova showing vast improvement in her game. She was moving more freely on the court and her serve has also shown a vast improvement. She looks much more focussed and her powerful groundstrokes are also very noticeable.
Her performance reminds one of the great Spanish players of yester generations, Arantxa-Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez, the latter now acting as her coach. Conchita Martinez is also the last Spanish woman player to have lifted the coveted trophy at Wimbledon in 1994. The big question is: Will the 23-year old Muguruza be able to rise to the occasion of the final of the most prestigious tennis tournament this time or will she be intimidated by this huge event with the whole world gazing at her performance? She has to go to one of the biggest stages in world tennis to relish each and every moment and have the confidence that she can emulate her coach Conchita Martinez and bring glory to Spain as Conchita did in 1994.
The stage is set for one of the epic finals in Wimbledon's recent history. Venus Williams has never lost a Wimbledon final to any other player except her sister Serena, but waiting to break that recordon the other side of the net would be one of the emerging stars in women's tennis, Garbine Muguruza. In her first Wimbledon final she had lost to Serena Williams. Two years later, she has the chance to even the score by defeating her elder sister. Venus Williams and Gabrine Muguruza are ready for this historic occasion and so are millions of avid tennis fans throughout the world.
The writer is a senior journalist, political commentator and sports analyst
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