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By Chris Oddo/ Thursday, September 26, 2013

 

This week in Tokyo, Venus Williams is reminding us all why she became a champion in the first place.

Photo Source: AP

It has been over three years since Venus Williams last went deep in a Grand Slam, but if this week's hot streak in Tokyo is any indication, next year could be the year for her.

Tokyo: Williams Reaches Semis with Grueling Victory over Eugenie Bouchard

Written off by many after being diagnosed with the energy-sapping autoimmune deficiency known as Sjogren's Syndrome in 2011, Venus Williams has never relented in her quest to return to her championship form, motivated by an “I can do this even if you don't think I can” ethos that has often times left her vulnerable to disappointment and defeat.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion has slogged through ailments and injuries and regularly—some would say miraculously—displayed the patience and humility of a saint and the stubbornness of a mule, against great odds and while suffering numerous reciprocal injuries.

At times, Williams' efforts appear to be in vain. There are hard losses, like the straight-sets shellacking her sister handed to her in Charleston this April that remind us of just how far Venus has fallen from her glory days, and there are harder losses, like her first-round loss to Urszula Radwanska at the French Open, or her second-round loss to Zheng Jie at this year's U.S. Open.

At times it feels like Venus, at best, will be able to overcome all the hurdles she is facing on a daily basis for one fine day, but on the next she will inevitably tumble down to earth as all the hangover aches and pains leave her huffing and puffing and unable to sustain the type of physical exertion that would be required for her to truly be a force on tour again.

For a few years, this Sisyphean struggle has been Williams' day-to-day. She rolls the rock up the hill and it drags her back to the bottom where she will start again.

Remarkably, it hasn't seemed to quell the enthusiasm that Williams has for the game, or the desire that she has to get back up and try again. Where Justine Henin's short-lived comeback seemed to come with a caveat (if I don't win a Grand Slam fast I'm outta here), Williams attempt to revive her career comes with only heart, soul and the belief that there is still time, even as time seems to be working against her. When some retire at or before their prime (Clijsters, Dementieva, Bartoli and so many others), Williams pushes on past her prime, playing as if on a dare, aiming to prove that she can do what we do not think is possible.

Allaster: WTA Is Ready for Best-of-Five at Slams

This week in Tokyo, Venus is playing championship-style tennis again, and those who forecasted only doom and gloom and failure for her are once again tasting the umami of their words.

More important, the “R” word is not in the equation, and Venus herself made that clear after her 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 victory over Eugenie Bouchard at the Toray Pan Pacific Open on Thursday night in Tokyo. “You know there's a lot of people out there that talk this, that and the other and they never really played that well,” Williams said with a laugh. “I really focus on me and I realize I have to believe in me. I can't worry about somebody else believing in me and that's my whole thing.”

If it sounds like that is something new, boldly concocted by Venus after a few rousing victories, you're wrong. She said the same thing after getting bounced in the first round of Wimbledon in 2012. With cameras clicking, and microphones in her face, Venus proudly proclaimed that she was not, in spite of the dire circumstances affecting her health, going to hang her head—and she most certainly wasn't going to quit. “I feel like I’m a great player,” said Williams. “I am a great player. Unfortunately I’ve had to deal with circumstances that people don’t have to deal with normally in a sport, but I can’t be discouraged by that.”

WATCH: Rejuvenated Venus Williams Lofts a Nasty Topspin Lob over Victoria Azarenka in Tokyo

More than a year later, she's still not getting discouraged. That is what is so remarkable about Venus right now. Her drive, her determination, her fight—each is front and center as she tries to tackle the myriad challenges that have tried to sidetrack her career of late. You can feel it when you watch her play. How close to being on the edge she is, how committed she is to finding solutions even when sometimes they simply aren't there.

Last night, against the rising Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, Williams fought through a heap of adversity, and as the high-intensity battle wormed its way beyond the three-hour mark, it was Venus Williams, wobbly but without fear or trepidation, who emerged with the victory.

The victory made it sweet, almost sublime. But even if she had lost, Williams unquenchable urge to squeeze every last drop of bad-ass tennis from her reservoir have made her a hands-down winner already.

Watching a player win with ease, like Venus' sister Serena typically does, can be rewarding, but watching a player struggle with all her might to summon everything inside her even when the forces of nature appear to be conspiring against her, that is something akin to religion.

Soulful, determined, stubborn, valiant. Venus Williams is all these things and more, inspiring us all as she pushes that rock up the hill.


 

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