How to beat Williams at her best

Venus Williams beats Johanna Konta to secure her place in the 2017 Wimbledon final
Wimbledon 2017 on the BBC
Venue: All England Club Dates: 3-16 July Starts: 11:30 BST
Live: Coverage across BBC TV, BBC Radio and BBC Sport website with further coverage on Red Button, Connected TVs and app. Click for full times.

Venus Williams is looking to win her sixth Wimbledon title when she plays Garbine Muguruza in Saturday’s final, 17 years after winning her first.

The 37-year-old American is the oldest finalist at SW19 since Martina Navratilova in 1994 and victory would make her the oldest winner since Charlotte Cooper Sterry in 1908.

So, what keeps Williams going? What is it like to play against her? And what can Muguruza do stop her claiming yet another triumph on Centre Court?

Former world number one Kim Clijsters tells BBC Sport how it felt to face Williams on the other side of the net, and how it feels watching her from the commentary box now.

Wimbledon 2017: ‘Immaculate’ Venus Williams serve ‘handcuffs’ Johanna Konta

‘Smile shows how much this means to Venus’

Williams is playing in her 20th Wimbledon, and will be competing in her ninth final, nine years after her last triumph here in 2008. She was diagnosed in 2011 with Sjogren’s syndrome, an illness that causes fatigue and joint pain, and her ranking plummeted to 103. She reached last year’s semi-final and is back in the top 10 but weeks before this year’s tournament, she was involved in a Florida car crash in which a man died.

Clijsters: The passion for tennis that I saw when I played Venus Williams on the Tour is a big reason she is still playing now, and preparing for Saturday’s Wimbledon final.

Right from when I first started out, that passion for her sport was something that had a big impact on me.

Venus has done so much for female athletes, and has had a huge influence on the women’s game, and it is just amazing she is still here now, especially with the health issues she has had.

She worked so hard to come back, when we all know she does not have to do this any more – all the travelling and taking care of her body to prevent injuries so she can keep on playing.

Oldest women to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open era (since 1968)
Player Age Grand Slam
Martina Navratilova 37 years, 258 days 1994 Wimbledon
Venus Williams 37 years, 28 days 2017 Wimbledon
Venus Williams 36 years, 226 days 2017 Australian Open
Serena Williams 35 years, 125 days 2017 Australian Open
Martina Navratilova 34 years, 325 days 1991 US Open

I got emotional after her semi-final against Johanna Konta – not because she won, but from watching her afterwards, and the way she walked off court.

Her smile was like it was at her first Wimbledon final in 2000, and this time it probably means just as much.

Venus Williams smiles and waves as she leaves Centre Court after her 6-4 6-2 win on Thursday

I love these kind of stories where people are going through a rough time but then they are able to fight back.

It will just be unbelievable if she ends up winning, with everything that is going on in her private life too.

‘She can always step it up in the big moments’

Venus faced two break points at 4-4 and 15-40 in the first set of her semi-final against Johanna Konta, but won five straight points as she held, then broke the Briton.

Clijsters: Venus is supremely competitive. The level of tennis that she and her younger sister Serena reached made me go back to the gym to try to get fitter and stronger on court.

I had to defend better on court and serve better. Everything had to be better if I was going to stay up there and compete for big tournaments.

Venus Williams breaks down in news conference

I had a good rivalry with Venus, which was motivational from both sides I think. We had some great matches.

Yet I was really happy to be sitting in the commentary box for her semi-final on Thursday, and not be on the court in front of her.

Her ability to turn it on as she did against Konta, in the big moments as she did at the end of the first set, is exactly what I remember from playing her.

When you have been there before, facing break points at a crucial time in a big match, you can control your emotions and any negative thoughts.

I would try to look at it as just another point, but Venus actually steps things up in those situations – that is what she is so good at.

Oldest women to win a Grand Slam final in the Open era (since 1968)
Player Age Grand Slam
Serena Williams 35 years, 125 days 2017 Australian Open
Serena Williams 34 years, 287 days 2016 Wimbledon
Serena Williams 33 years, 285 days 2015 Wimbledon
Martina Navratilova 33 years, 263 days 1990 Wimbledon
Serena Williams 33 years, 254 days 2015 French Open

‘I had to fight for everything when I beat Venus’

Clijsters played Williams 13 times between 2001 and 2010 and beat her on seven occasions, including their last five meetings from 2005 onwards. The last time they met was in the semi-finals of the US Open, when Clijsters won 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 on her way to the title

Clijsters: I was watching Venus in the second set of her win over Konta in the second set and she was totally focused on not letting her back in the match.

It is not that she showed no emotion, but she was just so composed in everything she did, taking her time between shots and even with her breathing – her mouth was closed all the time.

I pay attention to that kind of thing because it tells you a lot about what the player is feeling. With Venus, it showed she was calm and focused. She was saving her energy for when she needed it.

I have been there on the other side of the net when Venus is playing like she did against Konta, serving really well, hitting returns to the lines and being very aggressive, and there is almost nothing you can do.

That is why Venus has done so well down the years at Wimbledon – on grass, the first two shots of each point are very important, and hers are normally better.

Williams’ most recent major title came at Wimbledon in 2008

Some days, I would lose to Venus and shake hands at the net and just say “too good”.

But I always believed in my chances against her. Maybe not when I was younger but, as I got older, I definitely felt there was always a moment where she might make a couple of unforced errors.

She would try to put me on the back foot but I felt if I could just hang in there and get some balls back, then I might be able to work my way into an advantage.

I still had to fight for everything every time I beat her, but sometimes her level does drop and you can cause her doubts as well.

‘Serve and return will be crucial’

In her six matches at Wimbledon 2017, Williams has hit 85% of her returns from inside the baseline – 10% more than any of the other women quarter-finalists and 25% more than Muguruza. It has been a successful tactic as Williams has won 37% of her first-serve return points and an extremely impressive 54% of her second-serve return points. She increased that against Konta, hitting 88% of her returns from inside the baseline and winning 67% of her second-serve return points

Clijsters: It was clearly part of Venus’s game plan to stand so far forward when she was returning serve against Konta.

The intention was not to let Jo start dictating, and also to try to force her to make some mistakes. It worked – for the first time at this tournament, I saw Jo get a little bit frustrated towards the end of that match because her game was not working and she did not know what to do any more.

Serve and return will be crucial again for Muguruza in the final. Whenever you play Venus, they both have to be absolutely right.

And you have to try to mix up your serve a little bit – a couple of harder ones, then a couple where you go a bit softer but to the lines – so Venus does not get into a rhythm. Once she does that, it is hard to stop her.

‘Don’t wake her up’ – Muguruza in the zone

I don’t think Jo used the body serve enough against her, which is something Muguruza could try.

Instead Konta went wide and gave Venus an angle, which is not a problem for her because she has got the wingspan to deal with those serves, and you almost have to hit it on the line to get an ace.

The body serve is the one where I felt most comfortable against Venus, to try to slice it into her backhand so she had to adjust.

It is awkward for her because she has got such long arms and at times it is actually harder for her to get her body out of the way.

‘A beautiful backhand, but will it hurt Williams?’

Muguruza’s backhand placement in her one-sided semi-final win over Magdalena Rybarikova shows how she varies her shots down the line (green) and crosscourt (yellow) but hit more winners down the line. She has hit more winners behind her backhand than any other player – 51 – during the whole tournament and only 50 unforced errors. In contrast, she has hit 51 unforced errors with her forehand but only 27 winners

Clijsters: Muguruza’s backhand is her best shot and she likes to use it to dictate the point. If there is a ball in the middle of the court, a lot of girls will take it on the forehand but she will run around and hit the backhand.

I always tell the players I coach to put your upper body into the shot and she does that beautifully. She is always leaning forward.

She hits a lot of really good backhands down the line but she always waits and sets up that shot properly, rather than just letting rip.

It is impressive, but I still don’t know if it will hurt Venus enough. I also think Venus is smart enough to attack Muguruza’s forehand and cause some damage there.

If Venus plays her best tennis, then I think Muguruza can do whatever she wants and it is still not going to make much difference.

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