Venus Williams has revealed she wants to play into her 40's, with a record-breaking appearance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at the top of her list.

Many had speculated that this year might be a farewell season for Williams.

She took a few months off at the end of the last year, and slipped out of the top 20 for the first time in five years.

It looked like her time as a professional might be measured in weeks or months, not years, but Williams says the fire still burns.

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"I play because I love the Olympics and I play because I guess I still can," said Williams, who headlines Thursday's second round action at the ASB Classic. "I guess those are my reasons."

Asked if that meant she wants to compete in the Japanese capital next year, the 38-year-old confirmed that was the case, then joked she may even try the Winter variety.

"Yes," said Williams. "And 2024. And 2022 (Winter Olympics). I'm going to be on the bobsleigh team. I love playing at the Olympics for sure."

Williams would become the only tennis player in history, men or women, to compete in six Olympic Games

Few players have been so good, for so long, as Williams. Billie Jean King (39) and Martina Navratilova (37) both won WTA titles at an advanced age, but both those legends played in a very different era.

Leaving aside Serena Williams, there are only five other players past their 33rd birthday in the top 250 in the world, including Kaia Kanepi (61), Sam Stosur (74), Svetlana Kuznetsova (106) and Vera Zvonareva (109).

What Williams is doing might not be seen again. It shouldn't be possible; not in a sport that puts a premium on physical fitness and conditioning, but also demands huge mental strength.

Not many gave Williams a chance against Victoria Azarenka on Tuesday night, and it looked unlikely when the veteran was down a break midway through the third set.

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But she rolled back the years to win 6-3 1-6 6-3 in two hours and twenty minutes, against an opponent a decade younger.

One rally in the sixth game of the third set caught the eye. After being on court for nearly two hours, Williams had just been broken, and Azarenka had a 40-15 advantage in the next game, before the American fought back to earn a break opportunity.

Williams then played two unbelievable shots, firstly a backhand retrieval at full stretch, then a reflex forehand volley from near the baseline, past a stunned Azarenka hovering on top of the net. That moment that turned the match.

"I don't think she surprised me," said Azarenka. "Sometimes throughout the years she can play incredible tennis, and sometimes she can have her ups and downs. I feel like when she has a tough opponent she maybe takes it on another level. She plays really well, she was very solid, and – I'm not going to say at her age it's surprising – but she is doing amazing and I am very proud that she is still on the tour and continues to inspire us as players."

For her part the world No 39 Williams is relieved to be in the second round.

"My goal was to get past [the] first round," said Williams. "Did you see who I had to play? I need these matches going into the Australian [Open] and I hope the next rounds will be fruitful for me. At the end of the day you get your mind ready and say I'm here to play tennis and to perform."

Williams faces compatriot Lauren Davis on Thursday, the 2017 Auckland champion who has slipped to world No 173. Williams has won their two previous encounters, both in 2015.