MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — In her two-decade career on the tennis tour, Venus Williams has seen plenty of players come and go.
She used to take the court against the likes of Steffi Graf and Jennifer Capriati. Now that they’re long since retired, she’s playing against women who weren’t even born when she and her sister Serena turned pro in the mid-1990s.
“I think everybody we grew up with has moved on, into a mature life,” Venus said with a laugh at the Australian Open on Saturday after yet another victory at a Grand Slam tournament — win No. 223, to be exact. “We just can’t figure out how we’re still here.”
At 34, Venus is not just still here — she’s playing in the second week of a Grand Slam again after rallying to beat Italian Camila Giorgi, a player more than a decade her junior. Venus was two points from defeat before turning the match around and prevailing 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1.
It’s her first appearance in the round of 16 of a major since Wimbledon in 2011 and her subsequent disclosure that she’d been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain.
The years since her diagnosis have been trying as she’s had to learn how to live with the illness while continuing her career as a pro athlete. Her results began to suffer. Once a constant fixture in the later round of slams, she got used to losing early. Her ranking dipped and she began to face more and more questions about retirement.
But Venus never viewed her condition — or her steadily increasing age — as an impediment to being competitive on the court again.
“The years go by fast,” she said. “It’s definitely been a lot of work and a lot of learning and a lot of perseverance. It will continue to be that for me. Just have to come to terms with it.”
Slowly, she’s worked her way back into the top 20 and now, with her win over Giorgi, closer to the top 10 again. And she has a chance to reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since the 2010 U.S. Open if she beats her next opponent, sixth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska.
Her run at Melbourne Park this week has motivated her sister to rally from a set down in her own third-round match on Saturday and drawn praise from players both young and old.
“She’s been huge for American tennis. She’s been huge for women’s tennis, in general,” said 19-year-old American Madison Keys. “And even now, she’s still playing, still dominating, and it’s one of those things where you think, hopefully I can have a career like hers one day.”
Billie Jean King, one of the trailblazers in women’s tennis, posted her congratulations on social media following Venus’ third-round victory.
“I am inspired by @Venuseswilliams every time she takes the court. Great to see her healthy, competing and loving what she does.”
Radwanska presents a much stiffer challenge in the next round. Although Venus holds a 5-4 edge in their head-to-head matchups, her last victory came nearly five years ago. Radwanska has won three matches since then, all in straight sets.
But Venus isn’t counting herself out. She’s still playing to win titles — just like her sister.
“I think our perspective is we’re still quite good at what we do,” she said. “While we’re here, we’re going to be here. While we’re gone, we might watch (tennis) on TV.”
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