Tennis

Venus readies for Eastbourne after injury layoff

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EASTBOURNE, England (AP)

Fit again after the toughest injury layoff of her career, Venus Williams said Saturday that a sixth Wimbledon title is within her reach despite more than four months off the tour.

The 30-year-old Williams will play her first match since January at the Eastbourne International grass-court tournament next week after recovering from a hip injury.

She will be joined at the Wimbledon warmup by younger sister Serena, who hasn't played in nearly a year since winning a fourth singles title at the All England Club.

''In terms of winning these tournaments, that's what we are here for,'' Venus said. ''We're not here for results, so we are going to do our best to take home two titles on this road.

''Whether it can happen ... remains to be seen. But that's what we aim for every time we hit the court.''

Venus will play Andrea Petkovic of Germany in the first round at Eastbourne, which starts Monday. Petkovic was her opponent when she had to retire because of the injury from a third-round match at the Australian Open.

Serena Williams has been sidelined because of foot surgery and blood clots in her lung. She returned to practice in April and will open her Eastbourne campaign against Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria.

Many players would be happy to simply ease back into competitive action, but that attitude isn't in the Williams sisters' psyche.

It says a lot about the state of women's tennis that the sisters will be considered contenders for the Wimbledon title should they emerge unscathed from Eastbourne.

Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark is ranked No. 1 but hasn't won a Grand Slam title. The top 10 rankings are without the Williams sisters - Serena is No. 25 and Venus is ranked 32nd. However, they own a combined 20 major titles.

Venus dismissed the notion it would reflect badly on the women's game if she or Serena won Wimbledon despite their lengthy absences.

''At the end of the day, 10 years from now, no one is going to remember, 'Oh poor V, she was injured' or 'poor X player.' It'll just say Wimbledon title, hopefully my name on it. And that's all that matters,'' Venus said.

Venus Williams last played Eastbourne in 1998 when she lost to Natasha Zvereva in the opening match. In 1997, she qualified and lost to Nathalie Tauziat in the second round.

She's just happy to get back playing on grass courts, where she's won five Wimbledon titles.

''I can't believe I finally made it back,'' she said. ''It's been a very long road. I can't tell you how excited I've been to come and play and just be playing any first-round match anywhere.

''I never could have foreseen the amount of time I had to take off. There were some frustrating moments but I never let it get me down.''

Serena, a 13-time major winner, has had an even longer layoff.

Shortly after her Wimbledon victory, she cut her foot on glass at a restaurant in Germany but played in an exhibition match against Kim Clijsters days later in Belgium.

When she returned to the United States, she had the first of two foot operations before being diagnosed in February with blood clots in her lung. She also needed treatment for a hematoma - a gathering of blood under the skin - on her stomach.

''I'm definitely proud of her and really impressed she stayed positive through all of her challenges,'' Venus said. ''It would have been easy just to say 'poor me' and just sit back and relax and say 'I'm sitting on all these majors and I don't need to come back.' But it shows her dedication to the game.''

Venus said the timing of their comeback wasn't planned.

''I had no idea that she was going to make it back,'' Venus said. ''It's pretty ironic that we had the opportunity to be here at the same time.

''I think this is crucial for us ... to be able to play these key matches at this tournament and be able to do these leading into Wimbledon.''

If Serena defeats Pironkova, she could potentially play top-seeded Vera Zvonareva in the second round at Eastbourne. Williams defeated Zvonareva in last year's Wimbledon final.

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Sports Writer Melissa Murphy in New York contributed to this report.

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