Serena Williams of the U.S. waves after defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian )
Vincent Thian
January 22, 2015

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) There is a big difference between the Venus Williams of, say, the year 2000 and the Venus of 2015.

The Venus of today says she might not be at the top of her game but she is more strategic, she understands the game better and she has learned to not be afraid.

''That's one of the beauties of continuing to play as you get a lot of the years under your belt,'' said Venus, who at the age of 34 is one of the oldest players in the draw but enjoying what some have called a career renaissance.

Williams prefers not to see it that way.

''I'm just doing the best I can,'' she said with a laugh. ''I think as long as I'm doing my best something good will come out of it.''

On Thursday, Williams advanced to the third round of the Australian Open, beating fellow American Lauren Davis, 6-2, 6-3. She now faces Camila Giorgi of Italy for a spot in the fourth round, an accomplishment she hasn't achieved at a major since Wimbledon 2011.

When Williams played her first Grand Slams back in 1997 - or 18 years ago - her latest opponent, the 21-year-old Davis, was just a toddler. Williams went on to hold the No. 1 ranking, win seven Grand Slam singles titles and was also a runner-up seven times - losing to her younger sister, Serena, on six of those occasions.

No. 1-ranked Serena, who also won her second-round match Thursday, is a favorite to win her 19th Grand Slam title.

As recently as 2010, Venus made it all the way to the U.S. Open semifinals. Then health problems stalled her career.

She finished 2011 outside the top 100, and announced she was suffering from an auto-immune condition called Sjogren's syndrome, which can cause joint pain and sap energy. She took seven months off from tennis, and by the end of 2012 had climbed to No. 24.

She is now ranked 18th and won her 46th career title in Auckland earlier this year.

Williams says her health problems have given her a new perspective on life.

''More than anything, I'm appreciative of all the opportunities I've had in my life,'' Williams said. ''I'm appreciative for good health and just to be able to feel good every day.''

''When things are out of your control, it's easy to be afraid and fear can really hold you back,'' she added. ''So, I think you have to just conquer that fear. That's, I think, something I've learned as well, just not to be afraid.''

That perspective combined with her experience has also helped her tennis.

''Honestly, I think I understand the game a lot more. Even when I'm not playing as well, I think I'm able to tactically be more strategic than even, let's say, Venus of 2000. So I think there is a big difference,'' she said.

Williams describes her state of mind as ''always pretty happy,'' an assessment that Serena agrees with and says her big sister is ''in a good place'' both on and off the court.

Serena says her sister has always coped well with pressure and in the early years, there was lots of it.

''She came in as a new face, a black woman that was shaking up the world. She had all this pressure on her shoulders,'' said Serena, who faces No. 26 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in the fourth round. ''I came in behind her. You know, just snuck in there. There was no pressure on me at all. She dealt with it so amazing.''

''She is really motivating. She is playing so well,'' Serena said. ''For our whole careers, we've kind of motivated each other. We hopefully continue to do that.''

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