Venus Williams recounts first title after being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome

After being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome in 2011, Williams returned to tennis in 2022 and won the Luxembourg Open late in the season.

by Dzevad Mesic
Venus Williams recounts first title after being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome
© Getty Images Sport - Michael Regan

Venus Williams took to Instagram to recount one of the most special wins of her career as the seven-time Grand Slam champion still remembers extremely well her first WTA title after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. 

After struggling with fatigue and painful joints for seven years without a clear reason, Williams - now 43 years old - was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome in 2011. Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease, usually reflects in dry eyes and mouth but can also impact other parts of the body. Fatigue and pain in joints are also pretty common in people battling Sjogren's syndrome.

Following her diagnosis in 2011, Williams stepped away from pro tennis to address the issue. After giving a walkover to Sabine Lisicki in the 2011 US Open second round, Williams didn't play again until 2012 March when she competed in Miami. 

In her first nine comeback tournaments, Williams had a couple of notable runs but they didn't result in any titles. Then in her last tournament of the season in 2012 October, Williams defeated Monica Niculescu 6-2 6-3 in the Luxembourg Open final to win her 44th WTA title and her first since 2010 February.

On Instagram Story, Williams posted a photo of her Luxembourg trophy and captioned it: "My first singles win after coming back from nearly a year layoff after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. The racquet actually broke off and it just got fixed."

Venus Williams 2012 Luxembourg Open trophy
Venus Williams 2012 Luxembourg Open trophy© Venus Williams - Instagram

Williams on what led to her Sjogren's syndrome diagnosis

As mentioned above, Williams was struggling with fatigue and exhaustion for several years. During that period, Williams visited the doctor several times but would never get the clear answer until 2011, when she finally got to know what was causing her fatigue. 

"I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren's syndrome," Williams said in a conversation with Erin Andrews at BIO2022.

"Before that, I just would, I felt like I could never get into shape and it made me feel lazy. Because all I have ever done is work hard and it was difficult to work hard and I still worked but I didn't want to work because I felt so bad.

"I would periodically go to the doctor and say I don't feel well, I can't, I'm constantly exhausted. That went on for about seven years before I got too sick."

While being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that can't be cured certainly wasn't easy for Williams, it was still a relief in a way that at least she finally knew what she was dealing it. Over the years, Williams has several times addressed her battle with Sjogren's syndrome in her YouTube blogs. 

"Everyone's life is affected in different ways with autoimmune diseases," Williams said in a video uploaded on her YouTube account in 2022 June. 

"For me, it really obviously affected my work and my profession. I wasn't able to play tennis anymore, and I was out of the game for maybe nine months. 

"I also had challenges playing my best tennis, so of course that was frustrating especially when you have a high expectation of yourself."

Venus Williams
Venus Williams© Getty Images Sport - Cameron Spencer

Williams cannot wear lenses because of her disease 

For a person dealing with sight problems, Sjogren's syndrome absolutely won't help. When explaining how Sjogren's syndrome impacts one's life, Williams revealed wearing contact lenses is a real struggle and almost impossible for her because her eyes are "too dry."

"Those extra special friends that come along with it are dry eyes and dry mouth. It's very difficult for me to wear contact lenses. My eyes are just too dry to wear those," Williams said in a YouTube blog from 2022. 

"It can be very uncomfortable to the point where you would get mouth sores so as you can see an extreme level of Sjogren's Syndrome or extreme flare-up, or extreme symptoms can start to really affect your life."

Venus Williams
Venus Williams© Getty Images Sport - Cameron Spencer

Meanwhile, Williams is currently out of action but she is not retired. After suffering a leg injury during her Wimbledon first-round match, Williams appeared in three tournaments during the North American hard court swing but it was clear that she was limited and far from her best. Following a 6-1 6-1 loss to Greetje Minnen in the US Open first round - in a match where Williams was evidently struggling with an issue - the American decided to take a break so she could properly address her knee injury.

Williams, a former world No. 1, decided against playing any tournaments at the start of the season. Instead, Williams is hoping to play again in Indian Wells and Miami next month. 

Over the last few years, Williams hasn't had much luck with injuries but she is refusing to quit and wants to go out on her own terms. When Williams to returns to action, there is no doubt that one of her priorities will be staying healthy for a longer period.

Venus Williams Luxembourg Open