WIMBLEDON, England – Venus Williams (search) hopped for joy, punched the air and doubled over in laughter, renewing a once-familiar Centre Court ritual.
The celebration came after Williams earned her sweetest victory yet in a career revival, beating 2004 champion Maria Sharapova (search) 7-6 (2), 6-1 Thursday in the rain-delayed Wimbledon semifinals.
Gritting her teeth in determination between points, Williams kept Sharapova on the run with the kind of overpowering shots that helped her win four major titles. Seeded 14th, she'll play in a major final Saturday for the first time since sister Serena beat her for the 2003 Wimbledon title.
"Serena sent me an e-mail earlier, telling me what to do and to just stay in there and play my game and I was the best," Williams said, laughing. "I guess I took that to heart."
Rain forced the suspension of the other semifinal until Friday with top-ranked Lindsay Davenport (search) four points from the final. She led Amelie Mauresmo 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 5-3, love-15 when play was halted.
Davenport, who overcame a 3-1 deficit in the second set and won the final three games before the rain came, is seeking her fourth major title and her first since 2000.
Williams is a two-time Wimbledon champion and two-time runner-up, but it has been nearly four years since her most recent Grand Slam championship. She has overcome a series of injuries and the perception that tennis is no longer a priority for her.
"My game has been improving step by step," Williams said. "There were times when I was disappointed in how I played, because I knew I could play better. But all in good time.
"Everyone has their moment in the sun. That's what my mom always says. Everyone gets to win sometimes. Even though I would like it to be me every time, it's almost impossible."
The 18-year-old Sharapova is finding that to be true. She hasn't reached a major final since her surprising title run at Wimbledon a year ago, and the loss snapped her grass-court streak of 22 consecutive victories.
"I'm obviously very sad," said Sharapova, who was seeded second. "This tournament means a lot to me, more than any other tournament. I guess there are more years to come."
Williams avenged her younger sister's upset loss to Sharapova in last year's final. Venus also upheld family pride with a fourth-round victory over Jill Craybas, who had upset two-time champion Serena less than 48 hours earlier.
Venus heard from her sister shortly after beating Sharapova.
"She called me to say, `Can I have your autograph?' When she leaves we still have fun, but it's not the same," she said.
In the men's semifinals Friday, top-ranked Roger Federer will play No. 2 Lleyton Hewitt, and No. 3 Andy Roddick will face 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, who is staging a career comeback from a serious knee injury. It's the first time since 1993 that all four men's semifinalists have won major titles.
The women's semifinals began after a delay of more than four hours. Because of the wait into the late afternoon, the Davenport-Mauresmo match was moved to Court 1, allowing the Sharapova-Williams match to start at the same time on Centre Court.
Dueling from the baseline, Williams matched Sharapova shot for shot and even grunt for grunt as both players hit with power and precision.
But Williams was steadier on the pivotal points. Sharapova, broken just once in the first five rounds, lost her serve four times, and Williams saved six of the seven break points against her.
Scrambling to stay in rallies, Sharapova four times resorted to hitting one-handed backhands with her left hand. She lost all four points. Williams finished with 23 winners to 13 for Sharapova.
The Russian rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the opening set, and her comeback included a spectacular running forehand crosscourt from beyond the doubles alley. Moments later, the sun briefly broke through for the only time all day.
It wasn't an omen for Sharapova. Williams hit only one errant shot in the tiebreaker, then quickly went ahead to stay in the second set by breaking serve in the opening game.
"I don't think I played my best tennis," Sharapova said. "But credit to her for not making me play my best."
Now 5-0 in Wimbledon semifinals, Venus has yet to lose a set in six rounds this year.