Venus Williams has Sjögren’s Syndrome

Two-time U.S. Open champion Venus Williams has pulled out of this year’s tennis tournament due to a recently-diagnosed autoimmune disease.

Less than an hour before her second-round match against Wimbledon semifinalist Sabine Lisicki, the most-anticipated match of this event, ESPN reports, Williams withdrew from the tournament, then released a statement explaining why.

"I'm really disappointed to have to withdraw from this year's U.S. Open,” she said in the statement. “I have recently been diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease which is an ongoing medical condition that affects my energy level and causes fatigue and joint pain."

Williams had won her first-round match against Vesna Dolonts of Russia easily on Monday night. But she had been struggling with what she’d described as a viral illness for the past year.

According to The Associated Press:

Despite having won seven Grand Slam singles titles, Williams was unseeded at the U.S. Open because her ranking has fallen to 36th after a year of little action. Since reaching the semifinals at last year's U.S. Open, Williams has played only 11 matches, and the WTA projects that her ranking will slide out of the top 100.

After her victory Monday, Venus Williams was asked about the illness that caused her to skip tournaments this summer. She said that night she had been diagnosed, but wouldn't say with what.

Sjogren’s Syndrome is a chronic disease that afflicts four million Americans in which the white blood cells attack moisture producing glands, according to the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation, the New York Times reports. It can cause organ dysfunction as well as joint pain and fatigue.

Her mother, Oracene Williams, said Wednesday, “It’s something that’s been worrisome for a long time,” the New York Times reports.

While Williams’ withdrawal has derailed the 31-year-old athlete’s attempt to revive her flagging tennis career, she implied it would not be for long. "I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon," Williams said in her statement.