Resurgent Venus targets titles not retirement

After years of battling Sjogren’s Syndrome and consequent loss of form, many tennis players in their mid-30s would be eyeing retirement — but a resurgent Venus Williams says she’s not ready to hang up her racquet yet.

Fresh from winning her biggest title in five years, the seven-time Grand Slam champion will now be fighting for a return to the eight-player WTA Finals when she plays next week’s Hong Kong Open.

Victory at last week’s Wuhan Open was the 47th career title and second of the year for Williams, who picked up her 700th match win along the way and shot up 10 rankings places to 14th into the bargain.

And at a time of year when many players are looking forward to the end of the season, Williams says she still has unfinished business — including a first WTA Finals berth since 2009.

“This season has been great… of course you could ask for more,” the 35-year-old told AFP in an interview. “I want to win titles — I want to maybe take some more home. There’s still time this year.”

Williams is currently 11th in the wide-open Road to Singapore listings, where the top eight will book their tickets to the lucrative season finale later this month.

Her younger sister Serena heads the rankings but is skipping the rest of the season to heal injuries and get over the disappointment of agonisingly missing out on a calendar-year Grand Slam.

“This is my last chance to do well. There is pressure, but that’s the job,” Venus Williams said in Hong Kong.

It has been a tough few years for Williams since she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome in 2011, an immune system disease that often leaves her exhausted.

– Raw foods –

“It’s something I live with every day — I think this past 12 months has been learning to manage it a lot better. There’s no manual on what to do,” she told AFP.

Part of dealing with the disease has been changing her diet.

“I eat a lot of raw foods but not completely raw foods — that would be tough to only eat asparagus before the match! It’s just trying to find a balance,” she said.

“Sjogren’s is chronic — you don’t take pills and it goes away. It’s physical and also mental.”

The sisters give each other support, she says, with no hard feelings after matches. Their 27th professional meeting was at last month’s US Open quarter-finals, with Serena coming out on top.

“She (Serena) feels her achievements are mine and vice versa… It’s for all of us and our family as well.”

Williams still practises two to three hours each day and says eventually she will be ready to stop — but not yet.

For now her main aim is to stay healthy for a shot at representing the USA at next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio.

“The time to retire is when you’re going backwards, when you can’t maintain the level of the game and improve, or when you’ve had enough. I’m at neither of those points yet,” she told AFP.

“It comes to everyone, I just don’t know when for me.”

When the time does come, she says she will swap tennis shoes for dancing shoes and perhaps start a family — or have more dogs, as company for her beloved Havanese, Harry.

“Recently I started dancing — I go to jazz and hip hop and… I’m not great!

“I’m really bad, but I work hard, so maybe in a few years I’ll be on Broadway,” Williams joked.

“I think (after tennis) I’ll always be active and there will be other things — who knows, maybe I’ll have a family… or maybe more dogs,” she added.


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