With Wimbledon looming, Venus Williams excited to return after injury
By Liz Clarke,
No playing surface gives Venus Williams more confidence than grass.
Fittingly, the five-time Wimbledon champion has chosen a grass-court tournament for her return after being sidelined from tennis by a hip injury during January’s Australian Open.
After practicing Saturday in Eastbourne, England, site of next week’s women’s tuneup for Wimbledon, she proclaimed herself excited, fit and intent on drawing on her experience as she seeks to reclaim her form.
Asked if she felt ready to contend for a sixth Wimbledon crown when the season’s third major gets underway June 20, Venus said: “Being on the court playing competitive matches is completely different from practice. I think it’s going to be important for me to bank on all my experience, especially at Wimbledon, just to be comfortable in my game and my shots. But more importantly, I always believe in myself when I go on the court. I’m not just here to look good on court. I’m here to win every match I’m in.”
Venus is joined in Eastbourne by her younger sister Serena, who hasn’t competed in nearly a year because of a series of setbacks — a freak injury to her foot, two subsequent surgeries to repair the damage and a pulmonary embolism that required emergency treatment in March.
“I’m definitely proud of her and really impressed that she stayed positive through all of her challenges,” Venus said of Serena. “It would have been easy for me [had I been Serena] to sit back and relax and say: ‘I’m sitting on all these majors! I don’t need to come back.’ It just shows her dedication to the game.”
It’s the first time either Williams has entered the Eastbourne event since 1998, but the joint return wasn’t orchestrated, Venus noted. “That’s kind of how the cards fell,” Venus said. “A lot of cards have fallen not ideally for us lately.”
Venus, whose ranking has slid to 32nd, will face a first-round match against eighth-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany, against whom she was forced to retire in the third round of the Australian Open. Venus said her hip is now healed. And with her 31st birthday looming Friday, she rated her fitness as “really good.”
“I want it to be better all the time,” she added. “Still, I’m definitely good enough to be really competitive and win matches.”
Serena, 29, Wimbledon’s four-time and defending champion but now ranked 25th in the world, opens play in Eastbourne against Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria.
Both sisters practiced Saturday at the seaside town in southern England. Afterward, Venus spoke to local reporters and took part in a conference call with a handful of U.S. reporters to promote the upcoming World TeamTennis season.
As co-headliner of the Washington Kastles, along with Serena, Venus will play two matches this summer: The July 5 opener at the Kastles’ new stadium on Washington’s Southwest waterfront and July 6 at Philadelphia.
She said she intends to play TeamTennis, the co-ed professional league founded by her mentor Billie Jean King, “as long as they’ll have me.”
“It’s bringing tennis to a new level in D.C.,” Venus said of playing for the Kastles. “I think any way to grow the game is crucial.”