NEW YORK -- If you're looking for a feel-good story at this U.S. Open, look no further than Venus Williams.
While her younger sister, Serena, is a heavy favorite to win the whole thing, Venus is an extreme long-shot to regain the form that saw her win here in Flushing Meadows in 2000 and '01.
A year ago, Venus was forced to withdraw from her second-round match here after it was revealed she was battling the autoimmune disease known as Sjögren's Syndrome. She ended up missing nine months of action.
Williams, 32, is now through to the second round after beating fellow American,Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-3, 6-1, Tuesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"Honestly, I didn't even understand what I was going through at that time last year," Williams said of the disease. "I feel like just this summer I've come to acceptance. Like it takes a long time to come to acceptance, especially when you're an athlete. You see yourself as this healthy person."
Williams revealed that she's "on a few medicines" to cope with the disease, which she said last year "affects my energy level and causes fatigue and joint pain."
"I'm definitely better than last fall," she said. "Last fall I didn't play any tournaments and I was at home watching on TV. So there's a big difference between watching on TV and being in a tournament.
"For me it's very rewarding, it's very exciting. It's like, you know, just come full circle to be back out here, winning matches, moving forward - and getting better. That's good for me."
Williams, who came in unseeded because she is ranked No. 46 in the world, is coming off a semifinal appearance in Mason, Ohio, her first semifinal since the 2010 U.S. Open.
Still, playing against Li Na in the semis there, Williams played through back pain that forced her to get treatment and reduced her second serve to 63 mph by the third set.
She said she didn't even try to serve until last Thursday.
"I had to take it easy, you know, leading up to the tournament," she said before the tournament began. "I have had just kind of a soft preparation."
Against Mattek-Sands, Williams recovered from an 0-2 deficit to win the first set. Overall, she served five aces and three double faults, reaching 124 mph on her serve.
"After that [0-2 deficit], she was crushing her serves and hitting return winners," Mattek-Sands said. "I can't beat myself up too much. She was playing a lot like I play but she did it better."
Next up for Williams is a second-round date with No. 6 Angelique Kerber, a German who beat Serena in the quarterfinals in Mason,
Ohio. Kerber routed Anne Keothavongof Great Britain, 6-2, 6-0 in 54 minutes.
"Winning matches is fun, so I'm here to win some matches and that's the ultimate fun," Venus said. "That's the whole goal."
Spoken like somebody who's not quite ready to call it quits just yet.