Venus Williams is the only American to make it to the third round at the Family Circle Cup. (J Pat Carter/AP)
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Venus Williams battled through illness and a foot blister on Wednesday, rallying from a break down in the first and second sets to beat Chanelle Scheepers 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Family Circle Cup.
Williams, who arrived here with what she described as "a bug," hasn't had an easy pass through the early rounds. She edged Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova 6-3, 0-6, 7-5 in her opener, Williams' third consecutive three-set match.
"I'm still dealing with the bug, but my goal is just to hang in there until it hopefully goes away and then I can just continue to play my way into the tournament and play stronger," Williams said. "But it's definitely a challenge."
The challenge continues on Thursday when Williams faces Eugenie Bouchard. The 19th-ranked Bouchard is looking to get back on track after a relatively disappointing post-Australian Open run, during which she's won just four tour-level matches. She looked sharp in her opening match, a 6-2, 6-0 win over Alla Kudryavtseva on Tuesday. This will be a rematch of a tightly contested quarterfinal at the Tokyo Open last year, which Williams won 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3.
"I felt like I was close," Bouchard said, recalling the match. "I was right with her, and it was a good match for me to play such a champion. But now I feel like I belong more, so I feel more ready on the court."
The talk of the day centered on the surprising exit of Sloane Stephens, who lost 6-4, 6-4 to Elina Svitolina. On the whole, it's been a disaster of a tournament for the American women. Twelve made the main draw, led by No. 1 Serena Williams, and only Venus advanced to the third round. In addition to Stephens' loss, 15th-seeded Madison Keys tumbled out in a heartbreaker to Peng Shuai. Keys came back from 6-1, 5-1 to serve for the match in the third set but got broken and lost 6-1, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4).
"At least no one can say I didn't try," Keys said. "I mean, I fought. I gave it my all, and it wasn't like I just gave it away. I definitely made her fight and win the match. I wish I had played better so that I could have won, but I guess fighting is a positive."
Despite the loss, it was a noteworthy performance from Keys, who can find it difficult to harness her powerful game.
"There's definitely matches where sometimes it just gets away from me and I can't really get it back," she said. "Today it was definitely a positive to be able to get it back and figure out a way that I could have won."
Can competitive fire be learned? Venus believes it can and cites herself as an example. She's a far better competitor now than she was when she was younger.
"I don't think [competing] was as instinctual [when I was younger], but I think you have to have the desire to want to get the best out of yourself," Williams said. "We're not always going to be the best at everything, so then you figure out how to fill in those gaps of what you're not good at. I learned a lot from Serena in the '90s, because she had a lot of heart, and I felt like I needed to learn more, so she was a great role model for me."
For Venus, the key was recognizing there was an issue that needed to be addressed, just like a technically flawed forehand or backhand.
"[The Tin Man] didn't have a heart, but he wanted it. So he got it," she said. "He did what it took. So you have to recognize, hey, I got this issue. Let me fix it. You can't just ignore it."
Asked how she'd advise young players who are beginning to break through, Venus offered a sternly delivered message.
"Don't make any excuses for yourself," she said. "If you didn't win the match, guess what, it's you on the court. So figure it out. Whatever it takes to win, obviously, in a fair way, you gotta do that."