By Steven / The Associated Press
KEY BISCAYNE, Florida—Venus Williams whacked a winner on her fifth match point, then spun and threw a celebratory fist toward her father, who watched from the front row while munching popcorn.
The taste of victory never gets old.
Venus and her dad have been coming together to Key Biscayne for 20 years, and she moved a step closer to her first title in the event since 2001 by beating top-ranked Angelique Kerber, 7-5, 6-3, on Wednesday night in the Miami Open quarterfinals.
It was Williams’s 15th career win against a No. 1 player, but her first since 2014.
Four-time Key Biscayne runner-up Rafael Nadal advanced to the men’s semifinals by beating American Jack Sock, 6-2, 6-3. Nadal’s opponent on Friday will be Fabio Fognini, who became the first unseeded player in 10 years to reach the men’s semis at Key Biscayne when he beat 2016 runner-up Kei Nishikori, 6-4, 6-2.
The tournament was once known as the Williams Open because of the way Venus and Serena dominated. Now Venus, seeded 11th and 36 years old, is in the semifinals for the first time in seven years.
Her younger sister, an eight-time Key Biscayne champion, is out with a knee injury. But their father and coach, Richard, is attending a tournament for the first time in nearly a year after battling health issues.
He watched the quarterfinal in the photo pit along the baseline, and received a hug from his daughter as she came off the court.
“My dad is one of the loves of my life and the reason I’m here in this game,” Venus told the fans, who responded with cheers.
Later she added, “He has always loved popcorn. We always ate popcorn together when I was a child. That’s a great childhood memory.”
Venus’s opponent on Thursday night will be No. 10 Johanna Konta, who became the first British woman to reach a semifinal at Key Biscayne by beating No. 3 Simona Halep, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2.
“She’s living the dream,” Williams said. “I’ve got a dream too.”
No. 2 Karolina Pliskova will play No. 12 Caroline Wozniacki in the other semifinal.
Williams has enjoyed a resurgence this year, reaching the Australian Open final before losing to her sister. She took charge against Kerber when the German double-faulted on the final two points of the opening set, and broke serve twice more early in the second set to pull away.
Kerber saved four match points before Williams closed out the victory with a backhand winner.
It was a matchup of offense against defense, with Williams the more aggressive player, charging the net often.
“Sometimes I didn’t quite get it over that line, but I kept going for it,” Williams said. “I was aggressive, and that’s when I play my best.”
Kerber stayed rooted to the baseline and was on the defensive even when she served, facing 13 break points and losing serve five times.
She’ll remain No. 1 next week despite her loss. She reclaimed the top ranking this month after Indian Wells, replacing the sidelined Serena Williams.
Venus improved to 61-13 at Key Biscayne, where she made her debut in 1997 and won the title in 1998, 1999 and 2001. She lives 90 minutes north in Palm Beach Garden and considers the tournament her hometown event.
She was the oldest woman to enter the draw but hasn’t been taxed physically, winning every set in her four matches.
Nadal is playing Key Biscayne for the 13th time, making it his longest title drought at any tournament. He committed only 12 unforced errors against the No. 13-seeded Sock, rallied from a break down in the second set and improved his lifetime record against Americans to 60-9.
Fognini, 29, matched his best showing in an Association of Tennis Professionals Masters 1000 event. By beating the No. 2-seeded Nishikori, Fognini improved to 9-44 against top 10 players, and he became the first Italian man to reach a semifinal at Key Biscayne.
“He’s playing well,” Nadal said. “It will be a good test for me. I’m happy to be in the semifinals. I’ll have to play my best and play aggressive like I did today.”
Image credits: AP