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williamsfan
May 18th, 2004, 07:06 PM
Venus is back in business!By Benjamin Waldbaum
Thursday, May 6, 2004After a less-than-stellar performance during the first three months of the season, Venus Williams is once again a favourite for the French Open. With victories in Charleston and Warsaw, the former No.1 player in the world has shown that she still has what it takes to win on clay.

In the space of just three weeks, she has turned her season around and silenced the doubters who were beginning to question her ability to return to the top of the women’s game. Last year, after losing to little sister Serena at Wimbledon, an abdominal injury forced the winner of four Grand Slam titles (Wimbledon 2000, 2001, US Open 2000, 2001) to withdraw from the circuit for six months.

She returned in January for the Australian Open, but disappointed her fans with a string of surprising defeats. In Melbourne, she was eliminated in the third round (6/4, 7/6) by Lisa Raymond, an opponent she had beaten the three previous times they had met. In Tokyo, Venus forfeited her match against Chanda Rubin in the quarter-finals because of a muscle tear in her left leg. Then, in Dubai, she lost tamely to Svetlana Kuznetsova (6/3, 6/2). Finally, she conceded defeat to Elena Dementieva (6/3, 5/7 7/6) in Miami, again in the quarter-finals. By February 23rd, Venus had fallen to No.18 in the world, her lowest ranking since 1998. Looking back on those losses after her victory in Warsaw, she said "When I don’t win, it’s just not normal for me, so I tried not to be too hard on myself when I didn’t win those matches earlier in the year."

Venus’ persistence finally paid off on the clay circuit. In Charleston, she claimed the 30th title of her career, and her first since Antwerp in February 2003. Rallying from a set down, she blazed her way to victory against Conchita Martinez (2/6, 6/2, 6/1). This was the kick-start she needed, and she went on to record two more wins in the Fed Cup encounter with Slovenia in Portoroz.

On the back of these seven consecutive wins, Venus returned to Warsaw. The Polish capital was where she first felt her abdominal pains last year, leading her to pull out of the final against Amélie Mauresmo. This year though, she was fully fit, and it showed as she took revenge over Kuznetsova with a resounding victory in the final (6/1, 6/4). “I wanted to show everyone today that the girl in Dubai wasn’t Venus Williams,” she explained. Now back up to No.11 in the world (on May 3rd), with two trophies and eleven consecutive victories on the bounce on clay, Venus will arrive in Roland Garros full of confidence and ready to make a determined assault on the French Open title.