They’re calling it Throwback Thursday at Melbourne Park: three players who can combine for 46 Grand Slam titles and 106 years in age advanced to the finals.
Serena Williams overwhelmed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-2, 6-1 in the second of the women’s semi-finals, after Venus Williams beat fellow American CoCo Vandeweghe 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3.
Now, the only person standing between 35-year-old Serena Williams and an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam title is her 36-year-old sister, the oldest player to reach an Australian Open women’s final in the modern era – and, for that matter, any major since Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon in 1994.
“I felt like it was in my hands to force this Williams final,” Serena Williams said. “I was feeling a little pressure about that, but it felt really good to get that win.”
At 35, Federer is the oldest man to reach a Grand Slam final since Ken Rosewall made the 1974 US Open final aged 39.
Federer claimed a 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 win in an all-Swiss semi-final against Stan Wawrinka, who has won three majors – the Australian in 2014, the French in 2015 and the US Open last year – since Federer captured the last of his record 17, at Wimbledon in 2012.
Wawrinka broke his racket over his knee in the second set. He needed a medical timeout before the third, and rallied to force Federer to five for the first time ever before double-faulting to give up the vital break in the sixth game.
Federer, returning from six months out to rest his injured left knee, made no mistake in closing out. He will now play on Sunday against the winner of today’s semi-final between 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov.
With the Williams locked in for tomorrow night, local sentiment is rising for another Roger-Rafa bout on Sunday.
“Regardless of who it’s going to be against, it’s going to be special either way – one is going to go for his first slam or it’s the epic battle with Rafa,” Federer said. “All I care about is that I can win. Doesn’t matter who’s across the net. But I understand the magnitude of the match against Nadal.”
The all-Williams final will be the first here since 2003, when Serena won what Venus has described as a “battle royale” – the first of her six Australian titles.
Venus hasn’t returned to the Australian final since then, and hasn’t reached a Grand Slam final since losing the 2009 Wimbledon title to Serena. “Everyone has their moment in the sun,” Venus Williams said. “Maybe mine has gone on a while. I’d like to keep that going.”
Given her struggles to overcome an energy-sapping illness since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011, a jubilant Venus Williams could barely contain her emotions after clinching the semi-final on her fourth match point.
She put her hands to her face, her jaw dropped, and she crossed her arms over her heart. A stylish pirouette and wave had the crowd on its feet in support.
Serena Williams’ celebration was more subdued – a raised arm following a warm embrace with the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni, who was playing her first semi-final at a major since Wimbledon in 1999.
Of all the comeback stories in the tournament, Lucic-Baroni’s return to the top after personal upheaval has captured the most heartfelt attention. After finishing the semi-final, Lucic-Baroni took a selfie with her cell phone before waving and leaving Rod Laver Arena.
Serena Williams turned her focus from one inspiration – Lucic-Baroni – to another very quickly.
“Obviously I was really proud of Venus,” Serena said. “She’s basically my world and my life. I was so happy for her. For us both to be in the final is the biggest dream come true for us.”
Venus Williams won the last of her seven majors at Wimbledon in 2008. She’s lost six of her eight Grand Slam finals against Serena, and is 11-16 overall in career meetings with her sister.
Vandeweghe, playing her maiden Grand Slam semi-final, was the first player to take a set off Venus Williams in the tournament, but then had her serve broken four times.
Venus Williams said she’d take a winning attitude into the final, and had nothing to lose against her sister.
“When I’m playing on the court with her, I think I’m playing, like, the best competitor in the game” Venus Williams said. “I don’t think I’m chump change either, you know. I can compete against any odds. No matter what.”
The younger Williams sister acknowledged Venus as her toughest opponent.
“Nobody has ever beaten me as much as Venus has,” Serena Williams said. “I just feel like no matter what happens, we’ve won... a Williams is going to win this tournament.”