WHEN Venus Williams revealed the full extent of her health problems six months ago there were fears that she might never play again, but the five-times Wimbledon champion will return to singles competition in Florida this week. Williams, who was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease Sjogren's syndrome last year, has been given a wild card to play in Miami, where she won the title three times between 1998 and 2001.
Williams, 31, has not played a singles match since disclosing her medical condition at last summer's US Open. However, she played doubles alongside Liezel Huber in the Fed Cup against Belarus last month and always said it was her intention to make a return to singles as well. "I'm feeling better every week," Williams said. "I'm feeling good. Having some adrenaline gives me more energy."
Sjogren's syndrome, which is incurable, causes joint pain, swelling and fatigue. Williams, who believes she may have been suffering from it some time before she was diagnosed, said she had been trying to learn to accept the limitations imposed by the illness.
"Instead of trying to run through a wall, try to take a step back and be smart," she said. "I think that's what I've learned. I think every serious professional does that. They just keep going. There's some things you just can't keep going through. I still have to be reminded to slow down, but hopefully there will be a day where I won't have to be reminded."
Asked how hard it had been to be away from the game for so long, Williams said: "It's definitely difficult not being on the court, especially when there's not much to be done about it, when it's completely out of my control. I think that's probably the hardest part. It's about learning and adjusting. I learn how to treat myself, how to be smart, listen to my doctor, do as much as I can. I think that's brought me a long way."
Victoria Azarenka, the world No 1, will be defending her title in Miami after beating Maria Sharapova in last year's final. Having also beaten Sharapova in this year's Australian Open final, Azarenka was attempting last night to claim a fourth victory in her last five meetings with the Russian at the final in Indian Wells.
Roger Federer was due to meet John Isner in the men's final. Federer enjoyed a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Rafael Nadal in Saturday's semi-finals. Isner reached his first Masters Series final thanks to a 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 victory over Novak Djokovic.