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Venus Williams has her sights set on reaching the top 16 by the French Open

February 25, 2007 10:44 PM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Venus Williams has a message for anyone who thought she might use her latest injury as an excuse to finally leave tennis. She's back, and she plans on working her way back up to an elite level.

"I love a challenge,'' Williams said.

She hadn't played competitive tennis since last October because of an injured left wrist and had pulled out of four events, including the Australian Open won last month by her sister, Serena. She returned to action at the Cellular South Cup, a Tier III event, hoping to work herself back into shape.

The 26-year-old Williams did more than that, playing well enough to win the event Saturday night, improving her footwork and cutting down on her own mistakes with each match.

"I really have nothing to prove,'' Williams said.

"I feel like I understand what I have to do, myself, as far as my talent. I understand how hard I've worked. And I think, time and again, Serena and I have, when we've come back from injury, we've come back just as good -- if not better.''

In Saturday night's final, she dismissed 17th-ranked Shahar Peer of Israel, 6-1, 6-1 in 68 minutes with a display of the power she so loves in winning her 34th career title and first since Wimbledon in 2005.

Not bad for someone who hadn't played since losing in the second round in Luxembourg in October. Before that, her previous match was a third-round loss at Wimbledon to Jelena Jankovic.

Venus knows what she wants. Even with the success of her V Starr Interiors design company, more than $16 million in winnings and her 27th birthday coming in June, Williams just wants to play and play well.

"It's very exciting because I feel like I know I can play this kind of tennis,'' she said after beating Peer with a serve that reached 125 mph and powerful backhands and forehands.

Williams, winner of five career Grand Slams, remains a big draw for fans. Organizers here scheduled her at night for each of her five matches, which helped fill the seats with adoring fans.

"I got a sense for how much everyone really, really appreciates the tennis, my tennis, and what I do for sure,'' Williams said.

Now she is taking three weeks off with plans to work on her fitness and strength.

If she stays healthy, her next tournament will be close to home at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. Then there will be Charleston, the Fed Cup against Belgium in Delray Beach, Fla., on April 21-22, Istanbul and finally the French Open.

Winning here should push her ranking from 54th in the world to the top 40, probably 39, according to the WTA pending Sunday's final at an event in Colombia.

"My goal is definitely to be in the top 16 by the French ... I think that's pretty reachable,'' she said.




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