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Serena Williams Gets Back in the Game

Tennis ace Serena Williams returns to the winner's circle after battling injuries, grief, and a dramatic slip in her pro ranking.
By Lauren Paige Kennedy
WebMD Magazine - Feature

What does Serena Williams -- tennis powerhouse, aspiring fashionista, occasional actor, and all-around formidable human being -- do when she gets the flu? Does she fight her way through high fevers and boxes of tissues to come out swinging, shaking off chills and congestion faster than the rest of us nonathletic types?

"I just lie in bed. At some point I move to the couch. I watch lots and lots and lots of TV. Then around 6 [p.m.], I go back to bed. And I do it for days," says Williams, who dropped out of several smaller tennis tournaments in February while suffering from the effects of a particularly nasty bug.

And this comeback kid -- who despite her unseeded status defeated the 6-foot blonde Russian transplant, No. 2 ranked Maria Sharapova, in January's Australian Open -- cites television as her elixir of choice, whether she's sick or simply chilling out after a tough match. "I'm a cable freak," she says. "The Avatar is my favorite show. It's animation, which I love. And I'm addicted to America's Next Top Model."

And you thought elite athletes spent all their time bench-pressing and panting through grueling practices.

But Williams, 25, is no ordinary athlete. Fans and foes alike know her as something of a warrior goddess, all chiseled muscle and broad-shouldered menace on court, dressed in flirty Day-Glo pink or skin-tight black leather. This is a woman who clearly refuses to color inside the lines, even if her laserlike shots usually fall within them.

Serena's Setbacks

From the start of her career, Williams has defied the odds. She rose from L.A.'s rough Compton neighborhood as a child player to become, in 1999, only the second black woman to win a Grand Slam. Althea Gibson's historic 1956 victory served as inspiration. Williams took home gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics for women's doubles (sharing the honor with her sister, tennis champ Venus) and earned four straight Open titles (nicknamed the "Serena Slam") by early 2004.

But Williams watched her No. 1 ranking drop dramatically after a nagging knee injury (a tear to the quadriceps tendon) continued to plague her, despite an earlier surgery to repair it. She also suffered from a stress fracture to her right ankle, which added more pressure to her knee, in 2005; in 2006, her ranking fell from the top 100 for the first time in more than a decade.

While Williams struggled with both personal and professional setbacks during these years, she never planned to bow out quietly. "I hated it," she tells WebMD, referring to the tough times, when some tennis fans wondered if her glory days were behind her. "But I had injuries, and I had to let myself recover."

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