Will Serena rebound at Wimbledon?

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
11:24
AM ET
When favorite Serena Williams was stunned by Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open, it marked the first time in six years Williams lost before the quarterfinals in back-to-back majors. Her air of invincibility is fading somewhat.

How big, then, is this Wimbledon for the 13-time Grand Slam champion?

No one will overlook Maria Sharapova for winning the French and thus completing a career Grand Slam, even if her draw was kind. She deserved it based on her consistent display in 2012 and the work she put into recovering from a serious shoulder injury.

Now Sharapova is steadfast on landing a fifth Grand Slam title.

On Friday, Sharapova and Williams were placed on opposite halves of the Wimbledon draw.

Here's a closer look at how it all breaks down:

First quarter: Tests for Maria, including Kimmy?


It's that time of the year. You know, when Tsvetana Pironkova comes out to play. Not doing much else in 2010 and 2011, the enigmatic Bulgarian has a love affair with Wimbledon and reached the semifinals and quarterfinals, respectively. She warmed up for this year's edition with a quarterfinal run in Eastbourne.

If she gets past the first round, she'll likely face Sharapova in the second. Intriguing, for sure.

Odds are that Sharapova would prevail, and in the fourth round, the new world No. 1 could meet Sabine Lisicki in a rematch of last year's semifinal. Lisicki, however, has had another injury-filled campaign and lost at a Wimbledon warm-up in the second round as the defending champion. She has a tough first-round match at the All England Club versus Petra Martic.

In Kim Clijsters' Wimbledon farewell, wouldn't it be nice to see her take on Sharapova in the quarterfinals?

Clijsters, though, has work to do from the outset, as she is unseeded and will meet Jelena Jankovic in the first round. Clijsters' recent inactivity and Jankovic's appearance in the final in Birmingham, England, make for an interesting combination.

Ekaterina Makarova is someone to monitor. She can play on grass. Makarova potentially would confront eighth-seeded Angelique Kerber in the second round.

Prediction: Sharapova


Second quarter: The end for Venus?


Is this Venus Williams' last serious shot at winning Wimbledon -- or has that time already passed?

An ailing Venus couldn't offer much against gifted workhorse Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round at Roland Garros.

Guess what? The two likely will reconvene in the same round at Wimbledon, where the shorter points and Venus' serve should help the five-time winner at SW19. Radwanska, after losing to Pironkova in Eastbourne, said she was tired, too. Venus, like Clijsters, is unseeded, and she can only hope her body will cooperate during the fortnight.

The pressure is off Li Na. She was always destined to struggle at the French Open with all of China watching her every move as the defending champion. In returning to Wimbledon, she's back at the Slam where she had her first real success in 2006 (a quarterfinalist).

Li has a smooth path to the fourth round. At that point, Samantha Stosur is the seed scheduled to appear. Stosur leads their head-to-heads 6-0. But Stosur, even with the big serve and ability to play at the net, has never reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon. One of tennis' little mysteries.

Melanie Oudin has been through a lot, so we're guessing most would have been delighted when she won her first title in Birmingham last week. What a boost heading into Wimbledon, where Oudin broke through in 2009. Winning in the first round and getting to the second, maybe against Nadia Petrova, would count as more progress.

Prediction: Li

Third quarter: Serena, the defending champ and the Paris surprise


Before the Razzano result, Serena Williams had never lost in the first round of a Grand Slam. Could it happen twice in succession? Barbora Zahlavova Strycova can be tricky at times, but this is grass, and Serena -- who was slightly injured -- routed the Czech at the Australian Open in January.

More difficult matches are ahead.

Li's countrywoman Zheng Jie is a potential third-round adversary. Zheng has fond memories of Wimbledon, where she reached the semis in 2008. Zheng's confidence increased when she reached the semifinals in Birmingham, losing in three sets to Jankovic.

After her exertions in Paris, what will Sara Errani have to offer? Clay is indeed where Errani truly excels, yet the Italian, don't forget, also landed in the quarterfinals in Melbourne. On paper, she should advance to the fourth round -- against Serena.

Lurking in the bottom half of the quarter is none other than defending champion Petra Kvitova, who said she was content to be back at Wimbledon.

Who knows what Kvitova will do? She's still unpredictable. She was disappointing against Sharapova in the French Open semis, and once she failed to serve out the first set against Makarova in Eastbourne, Kvitova crumbled in their first-round clash.

Prediction: Serena


Fourth quarter: The return of Vika


Tired physically and mentally, Victoria Azarenka decided not to play any grass-court tournaments before Wimbledon.

Interesting strategy.

If she's refreshed, the lack of grass prep won't be a factor in her opening three rounds. The draw gods were accommodating: The first seed she is scheduled to meet is clay-court specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues.

In fact, getting to the quarterfinals should be a breeze for Azarenka.

Her most dangerous obstacle likely will be France's Marion Bartoli, who will be visiting the All England Club once this summer. Her dispute with France's tennis federation means Bartoli won't be at the London Olympics.

Bartoli advanced to the semifinals in Eastbourne and shouldn't be discounted, given she's a former Wimbledon finalist. Barring a major surprise or two, it'll be Azarenka and Bartoli in the quarters.

A new coach, but no change in results for Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki lost her opener to Christina McHale in Eastbourne and has a horrible first-round draw, up against Austrian Tamira Paszek. (That could be a long, long encounter.)

Paszek beat Bartoli in the Eastbourne semis and was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year.

Prediction: Bartoli

Semis: Sharapova def. Li; Serena def. Bartoli

Winner: Serena

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.

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