- Associated Press - Monday, January 14, 2013

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, http://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.

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