Venus eager to triumph

Updated: March 27, 2004, 11:57 PM ET
By Cynthia Faulkner | ESPN.com

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Hunger. It's the thing that has always separated the Williams sisters from the rest of the pack. Despite concerns that they sometimes lack focus on tennis, they've both always wanted to win.

On Saturday, after a straight-sets opening-round victory, Venus Williams was asked if her injury layoff caused her to be hungrier.

"I feel like the same person, the same player," Venus said. "I just think it will only be a matter of time before I get the same results. That time could be this week, also, is how I feel."

It's actually hard for anyone who saw her lose the final at Wimbledon to think she doesn't want to win. She wanted that Slam. She wanted it badly.

Baby sis had taken over the game leaving Venus in a funk after the 2002 U.S. Open. Then she went to the 2003 Australian Open and although she was happy for Serena to make history there by winning four majors in a row, once again, Venus finished second.

She fell in the fourth round of the 2003 French Open -- but clay isn't the best surface for Venus' quick game. Her chance should come on the grass. Then injury struck. She just couldn't play properly after aggravating an abdominal injury from earlier in the year. After the last ball was struck at Wimbledon until January of this year, she didn't compete.

Though some wondered if she would ever come back, Venus said it was never an option.

"It's quite strange," Venus said. "I never let on that impression. You go off and get injured, and people start to think that maybe you aren't interested. The truth of the matter is, I was injured."

Usually, when Venus begins a tournament she starts out a bit rusty and raises the level of her game as needed. After being down 3-4 in the first set against China's Jie Zheng, she won 6-4, 6-4. But this time, elevating her game wasn't as easy.

"What I wanted to do was try and go for more and whenever I get up, I do try to go for more and just keep playing better and raising it up to the next level. But it kind of backfired and I missed a few more, so I'll try not to do that," she said, laughing.

It's also not easy when you've never seen your opponent before.

"I see a lot of new faces that I didn't know before," Venus said. "So, I'm catching up.

It was only her eighth match since returning. She hasn't managed to get past the quarterfinals since returning. She says she's not worried about improving, she thinks time will get her there. More worrisome is the possibility of facing injury again.

But she has a support system here. Besides her sister, both parents are at the tournament. The whole family is ready to cheer her on.

"I can hear them: 'Come on, come on,'" she said, "even if I miss a shot or feel bad about the mistake or even slightly embarrassed about a silly error, I feel my family out there rooting me on."

And she's ready to take it all. In the past six years, someone named Williams has won this tournament five of those years. Unfortunately for Venus, most recently it was Serena.

"It's been a few years now since I've won this event," she said. "But Serena's won the last couple of years, so someone can mix her name up with mine and never know the difference because I get called Serena all the time. It's fine with me."

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.

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