TORONTO — Coming off a hip injury that sidelined her for nearly five months, Venus Williams is more concerned about playing pain-free these days than who her toughest rivals might be.
The 31-year-old American headlines a strong field for the Rogers Cup, Aug. 6-14 at Toronto’s Rexall Centre, less than two months after returning to the competitive court.
Williams is coming off a fourth-round exit earlier this month at Wimbledon, which in any other season might have seemed a disappointment to the seven-time Grand Slam singles winner.
"Playing Wimbledon and Eastbourne was a surprise, I wasn’t sure how far I would make it or how fit I would feel, and I really made it a long way without being in a lot of pain and that was more than I expected," Williams said Wednesday in a conference call. "So it’s just about keeping that up and staying strong and no more injuries.
"I feel good though, thank you."
Williams, No. 35 on the WTA rankings, said there isn’t one player she fears the most on the tour. Her biggest foe has been her own health.
"I haven’t been around women’s tennis hardly for the last year, so my whole thing really is to be on tour, play matches, stay healthy enough to be out there, so I don’t have any worries," she said. "For me it’s just a blessing to be back and to be ready to play."
Despite the injury setback, Williams still considers herself among the favourites to win, and said she draws on her experience to help her stay focused when she knows the young players are gunning for her.
"Sometimes when you take some time off it’s easy to come out a little bit rusty, maybe not making as many shots as before," she said. "For me it’s about staying in the moment, being positive, and at the end of the day, my whole outlook is based on how I feel I’m a talented player, and I have the experience, so that makes me confident even when it may seem like I shouldn’t be as confident as everyone else in the field."
Williams remembers making her first appearance at the Rogers Cup when she was 15 or 16, and while more than a decade has passed, she’s never managed to win Canada’s marquee tennis tournament.
"It’s great to come back with so much experience under my belt and having had so many dreams come true," Williams said. "But I’ve never won this tournament before, so I definitely would love to get this one under my belt and make it a great summer."
Sister Serena is also in the Rogers Cup field, and arrives with her own injury baggage. The 29-year-old was sidelined for nearly a year by a series of health issues, including a serious foot injury she suffered stepping on some glass and a pulmonary embolism.
Venus Williams said, with the parity in women’s tennis right now, there will be no easy match at the Rogers Cup. But she wouldn’t want it any other way.
"That’s the hard part about women’s tennis now is that nothing is a given, and I have to be on my toes the whole time," Williams said. "But the good part is that I love competition, I love a challenge."
Williams said her love for the game has been the key to her longevity.
"I love a challenge, my life seems pointless without it. I think a lot of it also is staying positive and being able to love the game, I really do love tennis, and all that contributes to being able to come back year after year," she said.
Williams believes the level of women’s tennis is at an all-time high, with the depth of the field and no one or two players who dominate every tournament.
"Personally for me, the most interesting (storyline) is if I’m dominating," she said, laughing. "I think women’s tennis is really right where it should be, there are new faces, there are faces we knew before and the fans love, and it’s just a great diversity.
"That’s what’s important for sport, that there’s someone for everyone to relate to, there’s new stories and that’s what will keep us going for a long time."
Both Venus and Serena are using the Rogers Cup as part of their tuneup for the U.S. Open, Aug. 29 to Sept. 11 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.