It was a tough row to hoe for one Serena publicized injury and health issues for almost a year.

The former world No. 1 injured her right foot in July of last year, just after winning a fourth Wimbledon championship, when she stepped on some broken glass at a German restaurant. The cuts were bad enough that she wound up requiring multiple surgeries on the foot.

If that wasn't bad enough, while Williams was still trying to recover from the foot woes, she was hospitalized for a hematoma in February of this year after receiving treatment for a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot in her lungs.

Serena was starting to think that she may never play tennis again. And how could you blame her?

But she is in fact back playing tennis again. And she's not only back, she's playing the best tennis in the world right now (with the lone exception of Novak Djokovic).

Williams returned to action two months ago, following a 49-week layoff, at a grass-court Wimbledon tuneup in Eastbourne, where she lost in her second match back, and then was unsuccessful in an attempt to defend her titles at the All England Club, falling at the hands of former Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli in the fourth round after winning the previous two championships there.

But since playing at those grass-court events in England, Serena has once again risen to the top as she has so often in the past. She's not exactly at the top of the rankings right now (currently No. 31), but could be well on her way to securing the top spot for a sixth time.

The 13-time Grand Slam champ now appears to be the favorite to capture a 14th at the upcoming U.S. Open.

"I consider myself a favorite to just do what I can do best, if that means winning the U.S. Open, obviously I want to," Williams said. "I went through a lot of things physically and mentally and emotionally, and going through so much, I'm just taking it one day at a time and just going with it."

After going 4-2 in her first two events back, Serena has won 14 of her last 15 matches, including a sizzling 11-match winning streak, with back-to-back titles in Stanford and Toronto. In Stanford, she beat the likes of fellow former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals, Wimbledon semifinalist Sabine Lisicki in the semifinals, and the aforementioned Bartoli in the final, where the powerful American was able to exact some revenge on the French slugger.

In Toronto last week, Williams shined again in a star-studded field, where she wound up leveling another Wimbledon semifinalist, Victoria Azarenka, in the semis and dispatching 2010 French Open runner-up Samantha Stosur in the title tilt.

"Being down the way I've been down and coming back, it was cool. Eight months ago if there was only one tournament I wanted to win, it was Toronto," Serena said. "For whatever reason, I really wanted to win this event. So seeing it come true is really cool. Just going through so much and being able to win is even more amazing."

Williams, who will turn 30 next month, now owns 39 career titles, and that number would certainly be much higher if she played more tennis. Due to her multitude of off-court interests -- modeling, acting, rapping, peddling goods on HSN, partly owning NFL teams (the Miami Dolphins), nail technician, etc. -- and a series of injuries over the past decade, the Michigan native/Florida resident has played only sparingly in recent years, which were/are still prime ones in her brilliant career.

Did You Know: Serena Williams is the all-time women's leader in career prize money, in any sport, with over $33 million. And only three male tennis players -- Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal -- have earned more in her sport.


This week, Serena is part of another glamorous WTA field, in Cincinnati, where current world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, last year's U.S. Open and Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva, Azarenka, the Wimbledon runner-up Sharapova, French Open champion and Aussie Open runner-up Li Na, Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, 2010 Roland Garros titlist and 2011 French Open runner-up Francesca Schiavone and Bartoli are among those lining up for a crack at the American great.

The 2011 U.S. Open will get underway in two weeks, as Williams will be in search of, surprisingly, only her fourth title in New York. Believe it or not, Serena has titled in Flushing on only three occasions, with her last one coming three years ago. She's missed the year's final major two times in the last eight years and lost in the final, to her big sister Venus, in 2001. Serena actually failed to win the Open five straight years at one point (2003-07), and missed last year's edition due to the foot injury.

Will she break through for a fourth Open title next month?

It's sure startin' to look that way.