Johannesburg – On October 31 1994, 23 years ago to be precise, a 14-year-old Venus Williams made her professional debut at the Stanford Classic, beating Shaun Stafford, who was seeded No 50 in the world.
It was the beginning of a remarkable journey.
The 37-year-old Williams has managed to perform at the highest level for more than two decades, winning seven Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal in singles play.
Fatigue and joint pain
The former world No 1 has won three doubles Olympic gold medals with her younger sister, Serena.
And the American pair has won 14 Grand Slam doubles tournaments, including six Wimbledon titles.
Her on-court form has been nothing short of remarkable considering she was diagnosed with the debilitating Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011. It is an auto-immune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain.
Since it forced her to withdraw from the 2011 US Open, Williams has had to rebuild her career and re-evaluate her lifestyle.
Rather than throw in the towel, the current world No 5 changed her diet and exercise regimen and has managed to come back and play at the highest level.
“Sjögren’s is something that stays around, hangs around in your body and tries to take over, but that’s not how I see it. I’m running the show,” Williams was quoted as saying by website Eurosport earlier this year.
At the Women’s Tennis Association finals in Singapore a few days ago, Williams remarkably rolled into the final.
Although she failed to secure the second season-ending championship of her career, she was great throughout the tournament.
She was beaten by a confident Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-4, 6-4 in what was her third loss in three major tournament finals.
Despite not winning a title this season, Williams was the only player to reach two Grand Slam finals, losing to Serena at the Australian Open in January and to Garbiñe Muguruza at Wimbledon in July.
Williams also reached the semifinals of the US Open in September.
She starred in the final of three of the five most prestigious events of the season.
“There’s still a lot of time to do a lot of things on and off the court,” Williams told Tennis World at the conclusion of the Wimbledon championships.
Asked if there might be another chase for Olympic glory at the 2020 Games in Tokyo with sister Serena, Venus said: “That’s my absolute dream. I have a dream partner. I would love that".
She has said she would start the 2018 season with the Sydney International in January.
The director of the tournament, Lawrence Robertson, said: “I am delighted to welcome Venus back to Sydney. She has had a remarkable season and her passion and competitive spirit will capture the hearts of all fans".
It will be a historic comeback for Venus, who hasn’t played in Sydney since 1999, when she lost to Steffi Graf in the quarterfinals.