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Vegan Venus Williams talks about food and tennis

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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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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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