Venus Williams

Thank You, New York

The U.S Open is kind of an anniversary for me. It’s not a roses-and-champagne kind of day, but it’s important. This year’s U.S. Open is the one-year anniversary of when I told the world that I had been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome. I made the announcement after I withdrew from the 2011 Open, soon after winning my first match, and it was the beginning of a pretty dark period for me. I still had so much to learn about how to live with the diagnosis. There were so many questions. Would I still be able to play professional tennis? Some days I wondered if I would even be able to pick up a racquet in a few years.

What a difference a year makes.

I am back at the U.S. Open, and I won my first match. I’m in the exact spot I was one year ago, but instead of wanting to bow out, I’m ready to go all the way to the finals.

My first match went exactly how I hoped. I was really happy with my serve. During a long tournament it is always nice to have a match that doesn’t take too much out of me. My back, which caused some problems in Cincinnati, is strong. Physically, I feel great. And mentally it is always a relief when I play the kind of tennis I know I can play.

The support from the crowd has been amazing, too. It feels like my story has been spreading and the tennis fans have really responded. Everywhere I go, people tell me that they can relate to what I have gone through or that they have family members who have lived through something similar. Even the press is a little different. In the past, reporters asked me questions and I sometimes got the feeling that they were looking for a certain answer, something that would fit some preconceived image they had of me. Now, they seem genuinely curious — even concerned — about how I feel. They really want to learn what it is like to live the way I live. Both the press and the fans have been so kind and generous.

It would have been hard to image writing these words this time last year, but here it goes: I feel blessed.