Thursday April 5th, 2012

Venus Williams won nine straight games to close out her second-round win over Jelena Jankovic at the Family Circle Cup. (AP)

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Not many players could come off a half-year layoff due to illness and immediately beat two former No. 1s and a reigning Grand Slam champion. Then again, not many players can match the talent and mental fortitude of Venus Williams. Her results almost tempt you to forget the fact that she's still not 100 percent. And the reality is, she may never be.

"I feel like a person that has an autoimmune disease," Venus said last week in Miami. "I'm not going to probably feel like everybody else. But my personal best is to give 100 percent."

Williams hit a physical wall against Agnieszka Radwanska in the Miami quarterfinals. After playing three straight three-set matches, she wasn't able to summon the energy to play her best. It wasn't a conditioning problem -- she simply had to be more mindful of conserving energy between matches.

"Every day is a variable," Williams said after defeating Jelena Jankovic 7-5, 6-0 here on Wednesday night at the Family Circle Cup. "I'm really learning, figuring it out as I go, and I think the one thing I do learn is I won't probably figure it all out, but I can try my best."

Williams looked sluggish early against Jankovic, who had led their head-to-head 6-5. Venus hadn't beaten Jankovic on clay since 2006, and she quickly fell behind, getting broken immediately. After she broke right back, she again failed to hold serve. But as the first set wore on, her intensity rose and her feet starting moving the way we're used to seeing. Jankovic served for the first set at 5-4 and didn't win another game. Williams had found her game just in time and reeled off nine straight games.

"Going into every match I always think how much energy can I save, and then when I start losing, then I say, OK, I have to spend," Williams said. "I start moving my feet and I start saying, I have to run."

Managing her energy isn't just an off-court exercise, though she admits that it isn't easy for her to play at anything less than 100 percent.

"I always try to see if I can save a little bit in the tank, but it never really works," Venus said with a grin. "But it's very hard to change that mentality because there's nothing worse than nothing left and it's a terrible feeling. So I'm still trying to figure out ways to psych myself out not to think that way, but I haven't found it yet. But I'm still trying."

The good news for Venus is that she's minimized her court time with two straight-set wins this week. "Actually, winning a match in straight sets is something I'm not used to yet," she said, laughed. Venus will meet Anastasia Rodionova in the third round Thursday, Williams' third match in three days.

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