WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Ignore the rankings. Ignore recent form. Remember this: You never can count a Williams out.
That’s the lesson Venus Williams is providing at Wimbledon, precisely the way her younger sister Serena did at the Australian Open six months ago.
Out of the top 30, never so much as a semifinalist at any Grand Slam over the past two years, Venus Williams moved a victory away from her fourth title at the All England Club by outclassing No. 6 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 6-2, 6-4 in Friday’s semifinals.
“Something about us – no matter what we’re ranked, no matter where we are, no matter what the next person says – ultimately we just believe in ourselves,” the elder Williams said, “and I think that’s what makes the difference.”
In her sixth Wimbledon final, the 27-year-old American will find a surprising opponent on the other side of the net Saturday: Marion Bartoli of France, who came back from a set and a break down to stun No. 1 Justine Henin 1-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Before this year, the lowest-ranked female finalist at the grass-court Grand Slam was Williams, who was at No. 16 when she won the 2005 championship.
This time, it’s No. 31 Williams vs. No. 19 Bartoli.
“I have nothing to lose tomorrow,” said Bartoli, who played 21 majors without ever making it past the third round until reaching the fourth at the French Open last month. “Venus has been the champion here already. I will try to figure out the way to play against her.”
If Williams can credit her three consecutive lopsided wins over women ranked No. 2, No. 5 and No. 6 to an edge in experience and a game built for grass, Bartoli had a more unique reason for her success against Henin – Bond, James Bond.
Yes, that’s right. While falling way behind against six-time Grand Slam title winner Henin, the Frenchwoman noticed actor Pierce Brosnan sitting in the stands.
“I said to myself, ‘It’s not possible I play so bad in front of him,”‘ Bartoli said, earnest as can be. “I saw he was cheering for me, so I said, ‘Oh, maybe it’s good.’ I kept going and I won, maybe a little bit for Pierce Brosnan.”
She began to turn things around after getting broken to trail 4-3 in the second set. Hitting two-fisted forehands and backhands, reminiscent of Monica Seles, Bartoli somehow started to put every ball her racket touched in the right spot.
After failing to muster a single break point in the first set, she compiled 10 and converted six the rest of the way. After managing all of six winners in the first set, she conjured up 21 the rest of the way. After venturing to the net four times in the first set, she moved forward 21 times and won 14 of those points the rest of the way.
Bartoli mixed in all sorts of spins and angles, yanking Henin from corner to corner, forward and back – the type of frustrating stuff the Belgian normally does.
“It was like she could close her eyes and play unbelievable tennis,” said Henin, who was hoping to complete a career Grand Slam. “She did everything perfectly.”
The same could be said of the way Williams has progressed through her past three matches, dropping a total of 17 games while beating two-time major champion Maria Sharapova on Wednesday, 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova on Thursday, then French Open runner-up Ivanovic.
Most remarkable? Viewing those performances through the prism of what Williams produced early in the tournament.
In the first round, against someone ranked 59th, Williams was two points from departing. In the third round, against someone ranked 71st, Williams double-faulted 14 times, faced 23 break points, and had to deal with a 5-3 deficit in the third set.
Since then, though, she’s dominated the way she used to regularly when she was winning four majors over 2000-01.
“She said, ‘That’s enough!’ and then got down to business and started playing better,” Williams’ mother, Oracene Price, said after watching the semifinal. “She’s finding her pace again and her rhythm.”
There’s an understatement. In the second set Friday – with her boyfriend, golfer Hank Kuehne, watching from the players’ guest box – Williams made only four unforced errors, 11 fewer than Ivanovic, despite swinging away.
Mostly healthy after missing the start of the year with a bad wrist, Williams got to nearly everything Ivanovic offered and went from defense to offense in a blink. It put her on the brink of a sixth Grand Slam title, which would tie Henin for second among active women behind – guess who? – another Williams.
Serena Williams won major No. 8 in January at the Australian Open, after entering the tournament ranked 81st, a run her big sister said inspired her.
“I’ve been counted out so many times. And it’s OK with me. I’ve been unlucky with injuries. That happens,” Venus Williams said. “But I think that I’ve had a little spell now where I felt good. I’ve had a chance to get ready. It’s all coming together.”