WORCESTER, MA, USA - Venus Williams will make her long-awaited return to tennis in the USA's Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II tie with Belarus this weekend.
Williams has not played a competitive match since last year's US Open, when she revealed she was suffering from Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease causing fatigue and joint pain, prior to pulling out of her second round encounter with Sabine Lisicki. Originally, the 31-year-old intended to comeback at the start of 2012, however, this date was subsequently pushed back until after the Australian Open.
Williams is part of a strong USA team assembled by captain Mary Joe Fernandez for the tie at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts; the side also features Williams' sister, Serena, Christina McHale and Liezel Huber.
According to Serena, despite competing in exhibitions in Barbados, Colombia and Italy in late 2011, her sister did not want to rush her return. "She's coming along awesome and doing really well," she said. "She's not wanting to take it too fast, come back too soon. But she's been training every day since before Colombia, so I know she's going to be ready."
Venus has a formidable Fed Cup record - winning 17 rubbers and losing just four - although she has lifted the trophy just once, in 1999, and last represented her country in a 2007 semifinal defeat to Russia. The USA's record is even more impressive, and with 17 wins they are the most decorated team in the competition's history.
However, recently, they have endured something of a fallow period, failing to win the competition since 2000 and last year suffered the ignominy of being relegated from World Group I for the first time in their history. The first step back towards the big time, sees them take on Group II debutantes Belarus, who are buoyed by the presence of the new World No.1 and Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka, within their ranks.
Serena, like her sister, last reported for Fed Cup duty in 2007, and she is looking forward to being part of a team again. "We played on the same team a few times," Serena said. "We always have a blast and always make the best of everything. We really enjoy every moment together because we don't sometimes get to spend a lot of time together. It's something that we really enjoy."