London, United Kingdom: Venus Williams insisted she never stopped believing she could conquer the long road back to the top after the five-time champion reached the Wimbledon semi-finals for the first time in seven years.
Williams reigned supreme at Wimbledon for almost a decade as the American star made it to the final eight times between 2000 and 2009.
But Venus has been a peripheral presence since 2011 when she was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an illness that causes fatigue and joint pain.
Struggling to deal with the physical and mental damage inflicted by the condition, Williams failed to make the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for four years.
But she refused to contemplate retirement and gradually learned how to manage her illness alongside reviving her stalled career.
Now, at an age when most of her contemporaries had long since called it quits, the 36-year-old has willed herself back into contention for the eighth Grand Slam crown of her glittering career.
"Retiring is the easy way out. I don't have time for easy. Tennis is just hard," said Venus, who won her last major title in 2008 at Wimbledon.
"It's easy to be afraid. You have to let fear go.
"No matter how things are stacked against you, you just have to believe in yourself. You just have to. There's no way around it.
"The good part is I always felt like I had the game. So you just have to keep working until things fall into place."
A 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 victory over Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova on Tuesday made Venus the oldest women's Wimbledon semi-finalist since Martina Navratilova in 1994.
On Thursday she faces Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber for a place in her ninth Wimbledon final and first since 2009.
If she makes it to a final against sister and defending champion Serena, who is also through to the last four, it will complete one of the most heartwarming comebacks ever seen in the women's game.
Never bitter about the hand life dealt her with the illness, Venus is adamant she is just relishing the chance to savour the big occasion at Wimbledon once again.
"The road was six years. I've been really blessed, to have an opportunity to be here," Venus said.
"I don't have any regrets about anything that's taken place in between. It's been a journey, but it's made me stronger.
"The most difficult part is just not being in control because when you're an athlete, you're used to being in control, being able to work for anything. Not being able to do that is a challenge.
"It was a relief for me to know what was wrong with me because I hadn't felt well in a while. That was, 'Okay, I'm not crazy'.
"This has been my life. What can I say? I wouldn't wish it any other way. It's been my life. It's been a beautiful life. It's been a great experience."
Once asked if she would still be playing by the time she was 35, Venus had scoffed at the idea -- now she can't contemplate walking away.
"Well, you have to understand that 21-year-olds are foolish. I didn't think I was going to be here at 36," she said.
"Now, if I'm here at 46, I will say that 46-year-olds are foolish. I don't think I'll be here, but we'll see."
And, after so long in the wilderness, winning Wimbledon would be the perfect way for Venus to cap a story that seems straight out of Hollywood.
"Like that movie 'Wimbledon'. Real life is what Hollywood is based on. So, hey, let's do it!" she said.
Published Date: Jul 05, 2016 11:09 pm | Updated Date: Jul 05, 2016 11:09 pm