Venus Williams fought to the bitter end in her match against Zheng Jie. (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

After a valiant effort resulted in a second-round exit from the U.S. Open for the third straight year, there was only one question for Venus Williams, one that she was not ready to consider.

“I definitely want to come back for the atmosphere,” she said in response to a question about retirement. At 33, she is suffering from an autoimmune disease and she didn’t have the game Wednesday night to beat 56th-ranked Zheng Jie of China. “I mean, next year’s Open is so far away.”

Williams fought for 3 hours, 2 minutes — the fifth-longest U.S. Open women’s match since 1970. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is a marathon,'” Williams said, but Zheng was tenacious, winning 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5) on a rainy night.

Williams, who suffers from an illness that causes pain and fatigue in her joints, has fallen to 60th in the world rankings and hasn’t been in the top 10 in 2 1/2 years.She withdrew from Wimbledon because of a back problem that bothered her as the match wore on Wednesday night. She admitted that her autoimmune problems have “definitely affected my game” but isn’t ready to quit.

“If I didn’t think I had anything in the tank, I wouldn’t be here,” Williams said. “I feel like I do, and that’s why I’m here.”

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