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The Look Ahead

Venus Williams is walking on sunshine Add to ...

Venus Williams has earned almost $28-million (U.S.) in her long and storied career, but strangely enough, she has never won the Rogers Cup.

The 31-year-old former No. 1 wants to reverse her fortunes in Toronto when she shows up for the first time in two years for the tournament that runs Aug. 6 to 14 at the Rexall Centre.

Williams’s career in Hogtown has been dreadful and given to long absences. In three previous appearances, she hasn’t won a single match, never making it past the first round.

She turned pro to great fanfare in October of 1994, and was only 15 when she first arrived in 1995, while playing on a wild card. Out in the first round, Williams never even got a chance to sniff Monica Seles’s boots. Seles reigned supreme at the time, especially at the Canadian tournament. And Williams was a fledgling, hardly out of the nest. She played only three tournaments that year.

Back she came at age 17 two years later, with a huge Reebok contract in tow. But she was bounced out in the first round by young French qualifier Nathalie Dechy, ranked only 115th. Williams hadn’t quite delivered on her promise yet.

By 2009, No. 3-ranked Williams was a major force on the women’s tennis scene, but Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko upset her in the first round of the Rogers Cup, and a frustrated Williams, raising her hands to the skies at times, went home early.

Williams cancelled out last year with an injury when the event was in Montreal.

Her younger sister, Serena won 10 years ago, but hardly remembers it. “I think I’ve won it before,” she said on a conference call last week. “But it felt like a lifetime ago.”

It was. Serena has played rarely at the Rogers Cup, too, in 2000, 2001, 2005 (she withdrew before her second-round match) and in 2009, when she lost to Elena Dementieva.

Now, it’s Venus’s time to change her history with the Rogers Cup. But she’s behind the eight-ball, having played little (but more than Serena) in the past year, because of injury. An injury to her left knee plagued her throughout 2010, but she still improved her ranking to No. 2 behind Serena. However, the recovery took longer than expected and it forced her to miss the rest of the season after the U.S. Open, having played only nine tournaments in 2010.

This season, Venus has competed rarely, and is currently ranked No. 35 in the WTA standings. She lost in the fourth round of Wimbledon, an event she has won five times in her career.

She’s coming to Toronto, vowing to think positively, not worrying about the up-and-comers at her heels, or the veterans, like Kim Clijsters or Maria Sharapova rounding back into form. “I really want to be positive, because sometimes when you take time off, it’s easy to come out a little rusty, maybe not making as many shots as before,” she said. “But to me, it’s just staying in the moment and being positive.”

She said she was surprised at the level of her abilities in the main tournaments she’s contested this year. “I wasn’t sure how far I could make it or how fit I would feel,” she said, perhaps thinking of the three-hour match she endured in the second round at Wimbledon against Kimiko Date-Krumm, which she won. “I really made it a long way without being in a lot of pain and that was more than I expected,” she said. “It’s just about keeping that up and staying strong and no more injuries. I feel good, though.”

Williams will be in the mix with the top 25-ranked WTA players at the Rogers Cup. The attacks will come from every direction. Nine of the top 10 players are from different countries. Gone are the days of dominance by players from a handful of countries with systems that churn out world-beaters.

“At the end of the day, my whole outlook is based on [feeling] like I’m a talented player and I have the experience,” Williams says. Her current sunny perspective makes her confident when it seems like she shouldn’t be, she added.

“I don’t have worries,” she said. “It’s just a blessing to be back.”

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