Australian Open 2015: Venus Williams back on the rise, learning to accept new life

Multiple Slam winner shows best form since being hit by disease four years ago

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The Independent Online

It is 17 years since Venus Williams made her debut here at the Australian Open and 12 since she lost to her sister Serena in her only Melbourne final, but the five-times Wimbledon champion is still going strong. Back at No 18 in the world rankings, which is her highest position since she was diagnosed with an incurable auto-immune disease four years ago, Williams is just one win away from making the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since Wimbledon in 2011.

A 6-2, 6-3 victory yesterday over her fellow American Lauren Davis earned Williams a third-round meeting with Italy’s Camila Giorgi. It is her third successive appearance in the third round of a Grand Slam event, indicating her progress ever since she revealed in 2011 that she was suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome, a  condition that causes fatigue and joint pain. She has  subsequently changed her diet, cutting out meat, and has to be careful not to push herself too hard.

Williams won her first tournament for two years in Dubai 11 months ago and wasted no time claiming her first success of 2015, winning the 46th singles title of her career in Auckland.

“I’m hitting the ball a lot like how I want to,” she said yesterday. “I think I  understand the game a lot more. Even when I’m not playing as well, I think I’m able  tactically to be more strategic than even, let’s say, the Venus of 2000.”

Williams is looking more at ease than she has for a long time. “I’ve had a lot of great times and I had losses, just like everyone else, but I’m always pretty happy,” she said. “I haven’t let tennis affect the rest of my life, whether it was good or bad.”

Williams said her health situation had made her appreciate all the opportunities she had had in her life. “There was a period where I couldn’t even play professional tennis, so I’m appreciative of good health and just being able to feel good every day,” she said.

“I think when things are out of your control, it’s easy to be afraid and fear can really hold you back. I think you have to just conquer that fear. That’s I think something I’ve learnt as well, just to not be afraid. If you are, you have to learn how to deal with it.

“I think sometimes in life you just have to learn to deal with the cards you’ve been dealt. I’ve just been trying to get used to my new life, I guess. I think it’s just an adjustment to  getting used to how I need to live now.”

Sister Serena, who is also through to the third round after a 7-5, 6-0 victory over Vera Zvonareva, said that she was motivated by her sister. “She is playing so well,” the world No 1 said. “It makes me look behind my shoulders and feel I have to play better and want to do better. I always want to be able to stay ahead as much as I can. For our whole careers, we’ve motivated each other.”

Describing Venus as being “in a good place”, Serena added: “She talks about how she feels and like: ‘Wow, it was a good match today.’ She’s like: ‘Yeah, if I win it’ll be great. If not, I’m not going to worry about it.’ I think that’s a great attitude because it takes a lot of pressure off you. She’s done so much in her career. She doesn’t have to win another match.”

Serena described the challenges that her sister had faced at the start of her career: “She came in as a new face, a black woman shaking up the world. She had all the pressure on her shoulders. I kind of came in behind her. I just snuck in there. There was no pressure on me at all.

“She dealt with it so amazingly. She had a lot of confidence and she had so much class and still does throughout everything. You can see that her personality is pretty much the same. She’s  definitely grown, but she’s always been very mature and very regal.”

The only cloud over the Williams sisters here has been their failure to explain why they pulled out of the doubles. The speculation was that they wanted to concentrate on their singles matches, but Venus said: “According to the rules you don’t have to give a reason. I think we’ll stick with that.”