Hong Kong - Venus Williams leapt to the defence of tennis as an Olympic sport in Hong Kong on Wednesday, saying she planned to defend her 2000 crown in this summer's Athens Games.
Two-time Wimbledon and US Open winner Williams, who hits the comeback trail in Hong Kong this week after nearly six months off the courts, saidstriking gold in Sydney four years ago was a career highlight.
"I love the Olympics, personally," said Williams. "I had a wonderful experience in Sydney. I definitely count it as the most treasured moment of my career. And if I have the opportunity I will be in Athens."
The 23-year-old former world number one was responding to Belgian rival Kim Clijsters, who questioned whether tennis should be an Olympic sport after deciding to skip Athens.
'I'm ready for the Australian Open'
Williams is playing her first tournament here this week since being beaten by sister Serena in the 2003 Wimbledon singles final, and declared herself fully fit after six months dogged by injury and personal tragedy.
Williams finished 2003 ranked outside the top 10 for the first time in six years, slumping to 11th after an abdominal injury wrecked her season.
A disappointing year on court was overshadowed by her troubles off it, when half-sister Yetunde Price was shot dead in Los Angeles last September.
Williams said the problems of 2003 were firmly behind her as she looked towards the new season.
"Sometimes life throws you punches and you have to get up," she said. "Because if you don't get up, people will walk on you."
Williams said though she felt 100 percent as she prepares for the Australian Open, which gets underway on January 19, she had opted for a more gentle build-up by playing an exhibition event instead of a full-scale tournament.
"I feel I've made a really complete recovery," she said. "It took much longer than I could ever have expected.
"At this juncture I'm most concerned with being healthy and I think playing here is the best platform for me to come back and play some matches and get some good competition.
"I haven't tested myself to any degree as far as tournament play, so this is a nice place to figure out if I'm up to it.
"But in my heart I know that I am. I'm ready for the Australian Open."
Williams laughed off questions she might retire from tennis early.
"Why do I have to retire so soon? Everyone wants to retire me but I want to keep playing," said Williams. "I'll be staying around for a while."
She revealed that Serena, who like Venus has not played since Wimbledon, will be fit for the Australian Open despite pulling out of this week's Hopman Cup in Perth.
"I've spoken to Serena and she's going to be in Melbourne," said Williams.
Williams is due to play Chanda Rubin at Hong Kong's Victoria Park on Thursday, with Russia's Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova in the other side of the draw.
Switzerland's Roger Federer and Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain play in the men's tournament, which also features Max Miryni of Belarus and the Netherlands' Martin Verkerk. - Sapa-AFP