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VWilliams hopes to end summer with another 1st

Venus Williams hopes to end a healthy and successful summer with another first — a World Team Tennis championship.

Williams will play for the defending champion Washington Kastles at the WTT Finals Weekend at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston. Orange County takes on Sacramento for the Western Conference crown Friday night before Williams' Kastles face John McEnroe and the New York Sportimes on Saturday in the Eastern Conference finals.

The conference champions meet Sunday for the WTT title.

"This is exciting," Williams said by phone Thursday. "I've never won a World Team Tennis title and maybe I can help the Kastles win again."

It's already been a satisfying season for the 32-year-old Williams. She competed in the final three Grand Slam events this year after withdrawing from the 2011 U.S. Open because of Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain.

The highlight came at the London Olympics, when she teamed with sister Serena to capture the doubles gold medal for Team USA.

It was Venus Williams' fourth Olympic gold and confirmed her belief she was still capable of competing at the game's highest levels.

"It was the pinnacle and what I was going for over there," she said. "My whole dream was us winning the gold for the U.S."

It's still a struggle at times for the seven-time Grand Slam champion. Her condition can leave her listless some days. But she said she certainly feels stronger now than when she last came to South Carolina's coast in April to play in the Family Circle Cup.

Williams, in just her second event since her diagnosis, reached the quarterfinals before falling to 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur. She's played a handful of marquee events since then. Williams made the semifinals at Cincinnati last month, losing to Li Na of China.

"I do, I feel stronger and think I'm making some progress," she said.

This week, the Williams sisters announced plans for an exhibition match against each other in South Africa in November.

The mid-summer tennis league usually finishes up competition in July after a three-week season — last year's finals, the first played in Charleston, took eight hours to complete after several rain delays — however, the Olympic tournament in July and August, plus the regular summer run of lead-up events to the U.S. Open led WTT organizers to push back the weekend.

Founder Billie Jean King says it gave local organizers more time to plan and promote the weekend and gave players something to look forward to.

That's the case for Venus Williams, who has played nine seasons of World Team Tennis without capturing a title. She has had success at this venue before, winning the Family Circle in 2004 among her 43 career WTA singles titles.

Williams enjoys the camaraderie and teamwork of the WTT.

"Being on a team, the crowd support, knowing every game counts," she said. "All those things are amazing."

The Kastles have won 30 straight matches, winning the title last season. Williams said she's eager to keep that run going this weekend.

Williams lost in the second round of the U.S. Open last month to Angelique Kerber, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. She acknowledged then losing matches like that was not fun for her. In the wake of such tennis champions as Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters retiring following the year's final major, could Williams make a similar decision?

Not now, she said, when she's enjoying her time playing the circuit.

"I still want to be out there, competing well," Williams said. "I feel good and I feel I've had some good results, so that's my plan."