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Venus Williams and Roger Federer

Venus Williams, Federer back in the thick of a Grand Slam

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — For all their Grand Slam successes, Venus Williams and Roger Federer still find themselves surprised to be in the semifinals at the Australian Open.

Injuries, illness and advancing age can do that to the best of athletes, even 17-time major champion Federer and seven-time Grand Slam singles winner Williams, who has overcome an energy-sapping illness and is playing some of her best tennis since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011.

“I have a lot to give, I have a lot to give to the game. I feel like I have a lot of great tennis in me,” Williams said when asked why she didn’t retire when diagnosed with the illness that also causes joint pain.

“So anytime you feel that way, you continue. It’s just the excitement of having the opportunity to compete at my best level.”

The 36-year-old Williams beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 7-6 (3) on Tuesday, becoming the oldest player to reach the semifinals at Melbourne Park in the Open era. She’ll next play CoCo Vandeweghe, an American who beat French Open champion Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-0 in Tuesday’s other quarterfinal match.

It was a long time coming for Williams, who reached her 21st Grand Slam semifinal but her first at the Australian Open in 14 years.

The 35-year-old Federer, meanwhile, is back from a six-month injury layoff due to left knee surgery. On Tuesday, he had a 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 win over Mischa Zverev, the player who eliminated top-seeded Andy Murray from the tournament two nights earlier.

Federer’s semifinal opponent will be Stan Wawrinka, who had his major breakthrough in Australia in 2014. Wawrinka beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-3.

Federer won the first five games in 12 minutes, setting up a straightforward win to reach his 41st Grand Slam semifinal and his 13th at Melbourne Park.

Only he didn’t expect to be anywhere near the semifinals.

“Winning back-to-back matches in best-of-five sets against quality, great players, that’s been for me the big question mark, if I could do that so early in my comeback,” Federer said. “I felt I was always going to be dangerous on any given day in a match situation. But obviously as the tournament would progress, maybe I would fade away with energy.

“I think now that I’m in the semis, feeling as good as I am, playing as good as I am, that’s a huge surprise to me.”

Another tournament surprise has been the No. 35-ranked Vandeweghe. She beat top-ranked Angelique Kerber, who won the Australian and U.S. Open titles last year, in the fourth round. Vandeweghe followed it up with an upset win over Muguruza.

Vandeweghe saved the only break point she faced in the first set with an ace, and only conceded 10 points in the 28-minute second set.

“Once I got rolling in the second, it was like a freight train,” she said. “You couldn’t stop it.”

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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