Venus Williams a Nonfactor at Wimbledon

Loose Ball: A quick exit is the latest setback as the former No. 1 player battles injuries and illness.

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(The Root) -- If Venus Williams is destined to lose her battle against age, injuries and Sjogren's syndrome, she's determined to go down swinging. She was unable to muster much resistance Monday in an opening-round match at Wimbledon, but Williams refused to concede that her reign as a premier player has ended.

"I feel like I'm a great player," Williams said after losing in Wimbledon's first round for the first time since her debut appearance in 1997. "I am a great player. Unfortunately I have to deal with circumstances that people don't have to deal with normally in a sport, but I can't be discouraged by that. I'm up for challenges."

Williams, 32, a five-time Wimbledon champion, hasn't been herself for a while. She revealed in August that she suffers from an autoimmune condition that can cause fatigue and joint pain. Following a seven-month layoff, she returned to the tour in March, hoping to earn a bid on the U.S. Olympic team for the London Games.

The comeback has included measured success, such as reaching the quarterfinals in three tournaments and improving her world ranking from No. 134 to No. 58. But in her second-round defeat last month at the French Open, as well as Monday's 6-1, 6-3 loss to Russia's Elena Vesnina, Williams seemed to lack energy. She lost the first five games in a match that lasted just one hour and 15 minutes.

Williams didn't use her condition as an excuse, and she refused to discuss her health. "I did my best today," she said. "My opponent played well."

Wimbledon isn't over for Williams just yet. She will play doubles with her sister Serena, marking their first tournament together since losing in the 2010 Wimbledon quarterfinals. The duo won the Australian Open and French Open doubles titles earlier that season. They'll be shooting for their fifth Wimbledon doubles title.

Most questions aren't about Venus' prospects in upcoming matches. Instead, she's peppered with queries on her plans to continue playing. She's never been shy about pursuing outside interests, as evidenced by her EleVen clothing line, which is releasing new designs this summer.

No matter what happens in the doubles competition or the London Olympics, folks will wonder how long Williams can beat the clock and her medical condition. But as far as she's concerned, retirement is a long way off.

"I absolutely love this sport, and I feel like I can play well," she said. "I'm not going to give up on it."

Deron Snyder's Loose Ball column appears regularly on The Root. Follow him on Twitter and reach him at BlackDoor Ventures, Inc.

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