WIMBLEDON, England — For all the days and fortnights and years of the early 2010s, the horizon didn’t seem to hold in store the kind of impressionist painting of the Thursday that Venus Williams just had. It did not hint she might turn up at her Wimbledon sanctum and produce elegant forehands and consummate know-how through a charged semifinal against a home-country sensation. There didn’t figure to be any shot that would spawn as much acclaim as did one pearl from her 6-4, 6-2 semifinal win over Johanna Konta.
Yet here everybody was, at Centre Court, in the midafternoon, in the year 2017. Here was Williams, 37, defying entrenched logic about the process of aging that allegedly besets all athletes. Here were the usual 15,000 connoisseurs and stragglers, settling in to groan and gasp for Konta but also, by the sound of them, to appreciate Williams. And here came Williams’s ninth berth in a Wimbledon final, after 73 minutes sprinkled with but nine unforced errors and one shot that epitomized the match.
It shouted from Williams’s path to her meeting Saturday against ruthless 2015 Wimbledon finalist and 2016 French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, who already had torn through Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-1, 6-1, in the first semifinal. It came late in the first set, after Williams and Konta had tugged-of-war to 4-4 with a total forbiddance of service breaks. Williams, serving, had just faced a 15-40 inconvenience that made the crowd stir in a way that might daunt a neophyte. Williams, no neophyte, had just played a smashing point in a pinch, backhanding a tricky winner into the corner behind — and beyond — Konta.
Now, she faced 30-40. The match teetered as it figured to do. Williams’s first serve curled decidedly long at 103 mph. Konta had the relief and privilege of a second serve to field, so she bobbed up and down in wait. Williams wound up.
In a snippet of the depth of her mastery at her 20th Wimbledon, she slaughtered that thing 106 mph into Konta. It tangled and baffled the 26-year-old, whose awkward forehand attempt became a skittering groundball. Deuce, two more points in a row and a service break followed. A taut set had unspooled in a whoosh.
“Her being able to do that is why she is a five-time champion here, and why she is the champion that she is,” Konta said.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” Williams said on the second question about that, after answering the first: “There’s, like, no plan or anything like that. I don’t plan. I’m just trying to compete.”
Virginia Wade, the previous British female Wimbledon semifinalist in 1978, said on the BBC of Konta: “I don’t think she can blame herself at all.”
What had figured to be a referendum on whether Konta had the mustard to become the first British female champion since Wade in 1977 turned instead into a chorus of swooning about the caliber of Williams: the way she moved, her forehand, her forehand down the line and the forehand down the line that passed Konta and clinched the match. Unimaginably, all this came years — long years — after her patch between 2011 and 2014.
When Williams narrowly lost a U.S. Open semifinal to Kim Clijsters in 2010, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, many people who crowd their brains with tennis knowledge presumed a final chance might have passed her by ever so achingly. Things worsened from there. In late summer of 2011, there came the diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition with a litany of symptoms that include fatigue. From 2011 to 2014, Williams missed three of the 16 Grand Slams; in the other 13, she reached one fourth round, four third rounds, five second rounds and three first rounds.
She became an afterthought, as lingering champions can do. She kept playing.
Today, somehow, she’s the only player on the WTA Tour who has reached two Grand Slam finals in 2017. Saturday, she could become the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam tournament since professionals were first allowed to play them in 1968, breaking the mark set by her younger sister Serena at the Australian Open in January.
“There were definitely some issues,” she said. “I had a lot of issues. This year has been amazing in terms of my play, playing deep into the big events actually.”
Yet she’s so seasoned and so intent that it occurred to one reporter to notice a lack of outright giddiness. “I feel very focused still; there’s still a lot to be done,” she said, soon adding: “But I like to take courage in the fact that I’ve been playing well this tournament and this year, and all those moments have led to this.”
She has been playing commandingly. In some ways, it has carried vestiges of 2007-09, when she won 20 straight matches and two titles here (2007-08). In the last four rounds, against three ambitious players born in 1997 and the sixth-ranked player in the world in Konta, she has lost serve twice, including zero times to Konta. With the factor of Williams’s serve hovering over the match, her break of Konta for a 3-1 lead seemed to make the thing secure, so airtight were her serve and groundstrokes.
“She dictated the match from the very first ball till the very last one,” Konta said.
With her improbable level of experience, she demonstrated the difference between a seven-time Grand Slam champion and an extremely good player. “This was my second Grand Slam semifinal,” Konta said. “It was her 202nd, I bet.”
It was her 22nd, technically, but everybody got the point. Soon enough, Williams’s last confident forehand was traveling in behind Konta’s momentum and obediently up the line, and Williams was raising her arms and smiling hugely toward her family et al, while Konta was thinking to herself: “Damn, I’m done,” she said. “Then it was like, Oh, okay, well, I’m done. And then it was, Oh, thank you, everyone. It was truly magnificent, the support that I had.”
That support had helped frame the match as enticing beforehand. It had helped push Konta through three close matches here. Yet a force more powerful and more serene had surmounted the whole lot of it, and a Thursday in 2017 had turned out to be luminous in part because it was unforeseeable.