Venus Williams

Being Open About the Open

Now that I have a few days between competing at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati (or “Cincy” as my team likes to say) and before the start of the U.S Open in New York, I can get my head together about how I’m feeling.

I went into Cincy completely motivated and enthusiastic. It would have been hard not to be, though, since I was coming off the Olympics. I think I felt better at the Olympics than at Cincy, but that’s how I would have wanted it. After all, if there is one place where you hope you feel good, it is the Olympics. I entered Cincy with the idea that I would fight for each point and slowly build one match on top of the next. It worked, too. I felt good, much better than at Wimbledon. The energy of the Olympics was still pushing me along and Cincy was a continuation of that momentum.

The tournament started well and by the time I won my quarterfinal match I felt amazing. Then the oddest thing happened. My back stated to get stiff before the next match. I warmed up but it didn’t help. Pretty early into the match I could hardly serve. It was so unexpected. I have never had a back injury before. This was completely new territory. They said one of my serves was 63 miles per hour. I don’t think I have ever hit a serve that slow since I started tennis! At least it went in, though.

I took an injury time out, which is odd for me. I don’t remember the last time I did that. I didn’t want to take it, and I waited a set and a half before I did, which was probably too long. I lay down and the physical therapist came out and worked on me. Luckily, the guy on the loudspeaker got the whole crowd to start singing “Sweet Caroline” so it didn’t feel like everyone was watching me face down on the court. In the end I just couldn’t resolve it on the court. I actually came really close to winning that match, too.

The U.S. Open is a few days away at this point. I think the issue with my back worked itself out. I live with completely abnormal circumstances for an athlete, never knowing how I am going to feel from one day to the next. But I am slowly figuring things out. Little things I do — small breakthroughs is how I think of them — are helping. When I was playing doubles at Wimbledon last month I started having these problems with my racquet. I thought it was strung wrong. Then, I thought the grip was off. Them I tried Serena’s racquet. I finally figured out that it was my hands that were the problem. They had become swollen. It’s kind of common for someone with Sjögren’s syndrome, and I had experienced it before but it hadn’t happened for six months or so, and I had forgotten what it felt like. I started drinking a lot of water to help flush out the inflammation. I made sure to eat very clean (no sugar) and I went to bed early. My hands came back down to normal, but it was a reminder for me: If I want to play great tennis, the kind of tennis I know I can play, I have to stay vigilant about everything.

For the next few days before the U.S. Open begins, I’m planning to focus and fine-tune the last few pieces of my game. I block everything out and my life becomes all about tennis. Even if I am not feeling my best at the Open I know I am going to fight for every point. I will play smart and stay positive. That is 90% of the battle anyway.

It felt like the whole crowd was there for me at Cincy. It was amazing. I think the same thing will happen at the Open.

It is actually a great place to be right now.