Watching Venus Williams laugh and smile through a press conference at Eastbourne at the weekend, it was difficult to imagine that she and her sister Serena had just experienced the most harrowing few months of their lives – or, at least, the most harrowing since the death of their half-sister Yetunde Price in 2003.
Venus revealed that Serena had been reluctant at first to disclose to her family the full extent of her injury which began innocently enough when she stepped on a broken beer bottle in a German restaurant following her victory at last year's Wimbledon.
It caused a blood clot which spread from her foot to her lung, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. "I don't think she wanted to worry any of us," Venus said, "and she probably didn't want to tell any of us – 'oh, by the way, I've got a blood clot on my lung!'
"She was still thinking about us – her family – in that moment and not let anyone get worried. When he heard, my dad jumped in a car and drove from Florida to California. I'm not sure why he drove, but he drove and was with her the whole time and I was too, so it was good." Sidelined as well because of a hip injury she suffered at the Australian Open in January, Venus was able to give her sister her full support and together the two have convalesced.
The sisters do most things in tandem so it was only natural that they should make their return to the game at the same time at this week's Aegon International in Eastbourne. Not surprisingly, it has made Venus far more appreciative of what she has in her life.
"Our life is so healthy that maybe we took it for granted a little bit, especially Serena. She could never have foreseen the issues she went through. So that's definitely a priority now, first take care of the health and tennis is after that."
Recovery has been a long, slow process for both girls. "When I first started I was terrible," Venus said. "I didn't even start serving until a few weeks in. I was very, very slow. We'd laugh at each other because when you start out again, you start out at the very beginning."
When Venus was away from the game for a similar length of time in 2007, she won her first tournament on her return. This time, her recovery powers may not be quite so impressive; she will be 31 next Friday. However, she remains convinced that she can add to her five Wimbledon singles titles.
"Obviously I have nothing to prove on a tennis court," she said. "But I know inside me that I have a lot left to give so I couldn't in good conscience not come back when I have that feeling in my heart that I can still play great tennis."
Venus starts with some unfinished business in Eastbourne. Her first match back today is against Germany's world No 11 Andrea Petkovic, who by coincidence was also her opponent when she limped off the court in Melbourne.
Sister Serena has a slightly more gentle start tomorrow – against the Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova – who has lost seven of her previous eight matches.