When Venus Williams departed last year's U.S. Open, there was a cloud of uncertainty surrounding her future.
She withdrew from the tournament just minutes before her second round match against Sabine Lisicki. But then she dropped a bigger bomb when she disclosed that she was suffering from an uncommon auto-immune disease known as Sjogren's Syndrome, which had been depleting her energy for years.
The two-time U.S. Open winner, Williams says she's in a much better place as she navigates her way through this year's tournament.
"I've come a long way in that one year" the world's 46th ranked player said before the start of this season's final Grand Slam tournament. "It's great to be back and feeling a lot better. Now I feel like I can play. Last year was just a real struggle."
Williams was eager to qualify for the London Olympics. So, she returned to the WTA in March in the Sony Ericsson Open. Her return may have been premature.
But with her disease better under control through diet and treatment, she focused on representing the United States and defending her Olympic gold medal in doubles with her younger sister Serena Williams.
She accomplished that goal by winning a third gold medal in London (and fourth overall including her 2000 gold in singles).
"It was definitely a kick start for me," Williams said.
Williams, 32, hasn't won a major since her Wimbledon victory in 2008. She hasn't won the U.S. Open since 2001. Recently, her play has shown real promise.
Even though Williams' play and energy level have been prone to inconsistency, she has wins this year against several top-10 players, including No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, defending U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, and French Open finalist Sara Errani.
She defeated Stosur and Errani on her way to the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati less than two weeks ago, though she hurt her back and didn't resume hitting serves until a week ago.
"Cincinnati gave her a lot of confidence even though at the start she wasn't feeling her best," said Williams' longtime hitting partner, David Witt.
Prior to last year's U.S. Open, she wanted to quit after practice but told herself she might feel better the next day.
"This year when I practice I don't want to quit," Williams said. "It's a huge difference. To be in a major and just want to walk off the court is tough. I have come a long way."