- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

WORCESTER, MASS. (AP) - Serena Williams said her sister Venus has been training every day and will be ready for the Fed Cup matches against Belarus _ her first competitive tennis since she pulled out of the U.S. Open because of an autoimmune disease.

“She’s coming along awesome. She’s doing really well,” said Serena Williams, who played her older sister in an exhibition in Colombia in November. “She’s not wanting to take it too fast, come back too soon. But she’s been training every day since before Colombia, so I know she’s going to be ready.”

The Williams sisters will be teammates on the U.S. team that will face Belarus and new world No. 1 Victoria Azarenkain, the Australian Open champion. Venus Williams has not played in a sanctioned competition since withdrawing from the U.S. Open in August and revealing she had Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain.

She did not participate in Tuesday’s news conference because she was scheduled to arrive in Worcester later. Serena Williams, who has not played Fed Cup since 2007, said on Tuesday she enjoys playing as part of a team, especially one with her sister on it.

“We played on the same team a few times. We always have a blast. We always make the best of everything,” she said. “We really enjoy every moment together because we don’t sometimes get to spend a lot of time together. It’s something that we really enjoy.”

Serena Williams lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open, two weeks after withdrawing from a warmup tournament in Brisbane with a left ankle injury. She took a few days off, but resumed training in order to be ready for the Fed Cup.

“I’ve actually been doing pretty well. I hit some balls. I trained a little bit,” she said. “Every day it’s feeling better. It’s not 100 percent. But it’s better than it was last week and two weeks ago. It just needs time to heal.”

The U.S. team also includes Christina McHale, who reached the third round of the 2011 U.S. Open, and Liezel Huber, the world’s No. 1 doubles player. Sloane Stephens, the daughter of the late New England Patriots running back John Stephens, is the fifth member of the team.

Azarenka is the star of the Belarus team for the first-round match that comes just a week after she beat Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final _ her first appearance in a grand slam final. Also expected to play for Belarus are Anastasia Yakimova, Olga Govortsova and Darya Kustova, the Nos. 63, 114 and 650 singles players in the world.

Serena Williams said Azarenka’s new status won’t matter on the court.

And she should know.

“I’ve played a lot of No. 1’s,” said Serena Williams, who was No. 1 herself for a total of 123 weeks, including 57 in a row from 2002-03. “It doesn’t change anything.”