Vegan Venus Williams talks about food and tennis


Vegan Venus Williams talks about food and tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Venus Williams has made the dietary leap from steak lover to vegan but admits that in times of weakness she is a ``cheagan.''

That's Venus-talk for a cheating vegan.

``If it's on your plate, I might get to cheat. If you're sitting next to me, good luck. You turn your head once and your food might be gone,'' Williams said, in good spirits after starting her Australian Open campaign Monday with a quick 6-1, 6-0 win over Galina Voskoboeva.

``I think it's pretty well known I'm a cheagan, ``the seven-time Grand Slam winner said, laughing. ``I'm not perfect, but I try.''

On her website the 32-year-old American refers to this phase of her life as ``Venus A.D.'' - Venus After Diagnosis.

Food is not the only difference between then and now, but it is one of the big lifestyle changes Williams has made since being diagnosed in 2011 with an immune system illness that had caused her years of mysterious symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue and muscle pain.

Williams went public with her illness after withdrawing from her second-round match at the 2011 U.S. Open and then took seven months off tennis, skipping last year's Australian Open as she learned how to manage the disease known as Sjogren's syndrome.

Her website, www.venuswilliams.com, says Williams' vegan diet is designed to decrease inflammation in her body and reduce the energy-sapping symptoms of the disease ``by not overloading her body with excess calories, pesticides or sugars.''

``No more of her favorite cherry pies, as sugar is strictly,'' forbidden, the website says, adding that Williams also has changed her training regimen to allow more rest days.

Her comeback has been impressive. Williams had the biggest jump of any of the top players in 2012, moving from outside the top 100 to finish the year at No. 24.

``She's back and she's fiery!'' the announcer told the crowd as the 25th-seeded Williams warmed up on Hisense Arena, the second of the main show courts at Melbourne Park. Fans welcomed her back with extended applause and cheers.

Playing with power and determination, Williams took command of the match early with a steady stream of winners and powerful serves.

She served two back-to-back aces - both over 180 kph (112 mph) - to take a quick 5-1 lead and then broke to win the first set in 31 minutes.

The next set went faster. Williams didn't drop a game, wrapping up the match in an hour flat with a beautiful backhand passing shot.

``Obviously it's nice to spend less time on the court, and not be in long sets,'' Williams said after the match. She was happy with match statistics that included a first-serve percentage of 70 percent. She also took advantage of six of 11 break-point opportunities.

``I don't think my opponent quite got the hang of - you know, it's hard to play the first match in a major, first thing of the year, and that can be a lot of pressure.'' Williams said about the 80th-ranked Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan. ``I did my best to just close it out.''

At 32, Williams is a veteran on the women's circuit. This is her 13th Australian Open and her 58th Grand Slam tournament.

She is regularly asked when she plans to retire, and routinely says not yet. Despite her star power, Williams has not produced the results lately that she did a few years ago. She hasn't made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam since the 2010 U.S. Open.

It's been a decade since Williams' best showing at the Australian Open, which came in 2003 when she lost the final to her younger sister, Serena, who is a favorite to win this year in Melbourne. Still a powerful pairing, the sisters won gold at the London Olympics in doubles.

No. 3-ranked Serena cheered her sister from the stands on Monday. The younger Williams won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and an Olympic gold in 2012.

Now that the elder Williams sister is back on the tour and feeling fit, she hopes to extend her career, which started in 1994, into a 20th season.

``Yeah, trying to celebrate the 20th anniversary,'' she said. She reflected on her illness, which she said has helped her to ``to focus on the things I can accomplish and not to think about the things that I can't do.''

She also reflected on her career, and the difference between her teenage mentality and now.

``When you're a young person, you just don't think it's ever going to end, and you're on top of the world,'' Williams said. ``Now, I realize, all these opportunities, I try to make the best I can of them.''

Her focus for now remains on tennis, starting with a second-round match against Alize Cornet of France and possibly a third-round match with reigning French Open champion Maria Sharapova, who is ranked No. 2.

``I love the game,'' she said, ``and while I'm here, I'm going to go for it.''

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.