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Posted on: Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tennis: Williams sisters to return at Italian Open

AP Sports Writer

ROME Serena Williams is ready to return at the Italian Open after a knee injury has kept her sidelined since winning the Australian Open in January.

The top-ranked player has been preparing for her comeback with practice time on clay.

"I had been spending a lot of time on court,'" Williams said. "My body is fine. It's feeling better."

Williams won the Italian Open in 2002 and followed the victory with her only French Open title two weeks later. Winning the tournament again after so much time off may be a challenge.

"When you first come back, you're never really 100 percent," Williams said. "At first you just have to start playing some tournaments to see how it goes."

Sister Venus is also ready to get back at this week's Italian Open after missing the last month with a knee problem.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Venus said. "I took some time off and I started hitting some balls a couple of weeks ago. I've been doing a lot of fitness."

The sisters are in the same half of the draw at the Foro Italico and could meet in the semifinals. Both players have opening-round byes.

A month ago, Serena wasn't sure when she would return and did not enter this tournament. But she asked for and received a wild-card entry two weeks ago.

"I still haven't gone on vacation because I have been focusing on my rehab gym practice and sleep," Serena said. "I really felt as if I was Bill Murray in 'Groundhog Day.' I was even teased about it because I was so frustrated, and so I'm really glad to be out of the United States for a while."

Serena won her fifth Australia Open title after a hard-fought, three-set win over old rival Justine Henin. She indicated that the knee was also bothering her in the warmup tournament in Melbourne.

"After Australia, I was amazed even how I was able to win the tournament," she said. "I had to totally recover from that whole Australia bonanza."

Venus won the Italian Open in 1999 and sounded more optimistic about contending this year.

"I just get out there and I grind," Venus said. "I've been working on my game and getting ready to win a title."

Venus has reached the final of the last three tournaments she's entered winning titles in Dubai and Acapulco. She lost to Kim Clijsters in the final of the Sony Ericcson Open a month ago.

Venus will turn 30 in June, and despite joining the professional tour 16 years ago, she has no immediate plans to retire.

"When I'm feeling rotten and no good at tennis, then I'll say to myself 'Get out of here.' On this wave of wins, there is no real need for me to think about quitting. So we'll see," she said.

Venus said part of their longevity is due to selecting when and where to play. Both sisters opted not to play in the U.S. semifinal victory over Russia in the Fed Cup last weekend, having also skipped last year's final that the U.S. lost to Italy.

The United States will again meet Italy in this year's final in November. Venus said it was too early to decide whether she would play.

"This year it's in the U.S. and it's going to be a new surface," Venus said. "Last year, we were not free to play. We were very healthy, but we couldn't play more tennis.

"At this stage in our career we try to make the best career move, and that is one of the reasons why we are still here."