Running Down A Dream

Venus Ebony Starr Williams merely ran down another ball, ran down a scoreboard deficit, and ran down 24-year-old Caroline Garcia on Saturday night in Singapore to advance to the 2017 WTA Finals.

Just to be clear about the matter -- since the English language is endlessly nuanced and confusing -- Venus didn't "run down" Garcia in the sense of mowing her like a green lawn in summer. She "ran down" the Frenchwoman in the sense of chasing her down and not letting her pull away.

Both semifinals in Singapore involved first sets which went to tiebreakers and lasted over an hour. As much uphill climbing as Venus had already done earlier in the week -- winning a 3-hour, 13-minute match over French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and outlasting Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza in two long and grueling sets -- the idea that she could overcome that marathon first set was not easy to embrace. 

The idea was certainly valid and reasonable... but the odds that Venus could bring such a scenario to life were modest at best. When Garcia took a 15-40 lead in Venus's first service game of the second set, the end did not seem far away. When Garcia got a great look at a short second serve from Venus at 30-40, she had a chance to consolidate her lead and her momentum.

She missed.

At the time, the most immediate response to such a turn of events was that Garcia made a long day longer for herself, but given that breaks of serve have been responded to -- and cancelled out -- for much of the past week in Singapore, Garcia's missed opportunity did not figure to be her last best chance to win the match.

Surely, Garcia's newfound competitive strength -- she had won three matches in October (two this past week) in which opponents served for the match against her -- would enable her to bounce back. Surely, after making two major finals this season, Venus's bid for a final in yet another prestigious tournament would fall short. No one doubted that Venus would continue to fight, but the uphill nature of the battle and the immense, bursting confidence of her opponent would stand in her way.

Venus had other ideas.

What is most striking about Venus is not that she won (even though that reality IS very striking; it is second or third on the list of amazing feats Venus has produced this week...), but HOW she won.

Absorb these points:

Jelena Ostapenko played her 27th three-setter of 2017 against Venus. Ostapenko won five three-setters en route to her Roland Garros title. The Latvian thrives in those situations.

Venus went into Alona's comfort zone and defeated her THERE, not in an easy match, and not when playing her best.

Entering Saturday's semifinal, Caroline Garcia had posted a 16-4 record in three-setters in 2017. While the whole of her season was inconsistent, she had become a third-set giant in her Wuhan-Beijing championship double. Garcia had also become supremely confident in three-setters, having come from 3-5 down in third sets to beat both Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki.

Venus went into Garcia's comfort zone and -- as she had done with Ostapenko -- fended off the Frenchwoman in that particular field of battle.

Just for good measure, when Garcia did trail 3-5 in yet another third set, Venus fell behind love-40 on her serve, setting the stage for yet another Garcia comeback at the end of a long match.

Garcia had reveled in being able to bounce back -- and not just in Singapore, but in Beijing, where Svitolina had previously served for the match against her but faltered. At love-40, Garcia had to feel that even though her opponent was serving for the match, she was about to make yet another last-moment comeback.

Venus went into THAT comfort zone for her opponent and proceeded to play five airtight points, including a perfect hooking T serve at 30-40 which Serena would have been proud of (and couldn't have hit any better than her older sister did in that instance).

It is easy to run out of superlatives for Venus -- not necessarily her game, but her fight and the totality of who she is as a person, a competitor, and an ambassador for women's tennis. Open-mouthed amazement is my fundamental response -- and state of being -- in the face of Venus's extraordinary competitive resolve.

What can be said about Venus -- in a way which isn't mindlessly repetitive or hyperbolic -- is simply that this 37-year-old player is winning while playing physical, taxing matches in which she is not always at her best.

One would think -- on a purely conceptual level -- that for a 37-year-old to beat much younger players, she would need to play lights-out and prevent the opponent from being able to ever push her back or get her off her game. One is also reminded of Martina Navratilova, who made a Wimbledon final at 37 -- just as Venus did earlier this year. Navratilova was so busy at getting to net that she did not have to play long points or get sucked into long rallies. That also represented a natural formula for success on the part of an older player. Roger Federer, at 36, is getting his body to the net a lot more than he did a few years ago. It is paying off for him.

Venus? Forget the old-versus-young angle. What is truly special about this week and her 2017 season at large is that she is winning by running, running, running along the baseline and sending a lot of strong offensive shots back to the other side of the court with enough depth and angle that opponents can't finish off points against her. 

Ostapenko is a winner-cranking machine. Garcia has a big (if erratic) serve  and has been cracking effective groundstrokes over the past month in her surge up the rankings. Both players made Venus work very hard in matches which hardly felt like one-way traffic.

Venus simply responded by making THEM work even harder, and the younger set ultimately couldn't keep pace.

It's not that Venus won, or that she's in the finals of still another big tournament, or that she's beating much younger players -- no, what matters in Singapore and in the larger context of 2017 is that Venus is doing what she is doing the hard way.

Venus isn't making tennis look easy. She is making the art of overcoming obstacles look routine. THEN one can look at this 37-year-old's feats and truly be amazed.

Venus Williams, having run down Caroline Garcia on her run to the WTA Finals, is truly running down a dream season. She will play a foe, Caroline Wozniacki, who has always been known for her ability to run down the extra ball and make her opponents play.

Two veteran cups runneth over in Singapore, and Venus's fountain of youth continues to pour out such magnificent competitive quality.