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Thursday, June 19, 2008
Updated: June 20, 2:43 PM ET
Venus will return to finals, only to find Serena waiting

By Ravi Ubha
Special to

Tournament: Wimbledon
Surface: Grass
Draw: 128
Prize money: $23,293,000
Top seeds: No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, No. 2 Jelena Jankovic, No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova

LONDON -- Changing surfaces? You wouldn't have noticed judging by the recent activity of the top female pros. Most chose to bypass grass-court tune-ups, opting instead to get to Wimbledon early and take it from there.

The surging Ana Ivanovic should ease into the fortnight, the Williams sisters are hoping to bounce back from a miserable French Open and Maria Sharapova is seeking to regain the form she exhibited early in 2008.

First Quarter: Cruise for Ana
After winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the French this month, Ivanovic admitted she was "mentally exhausted" and bailed on the Eastbourne, England warm-up. Sounded like she was vulnerable.

Not with this draw.

Serena Williams, Venus Williams
Serena and Venus Williams will have their work cut out for them if they are to meet, again, in the final.

Ivanovic opens against a player outside the top 100, her second-round opponent won't be ranked higher than 91st, and in the third round her scheduled seed is Dominika Cibulkova, the feisty Slovak who opted to attend a clay-court event in Barcelona after Roland Garros, only to suffer an abdominal strain that kept her out of this week's grass-court Ordina Open. Ivanovic's first test -- kind of -- might come from Agnes Szavay in the fourth round, though the erratic Hungarian has to get there first.

Ivanovic's scheduled quarterfinal foe is Anna Chakvetadze, who is having a season to forget. Possible floaters are the slumping Nicole Vaidisova -- surely her form has to better sometime -- and Aussie net rusher Sam Stosur, on the way back from viral meningitis.

Prediction: Ivanovic

Second Quarter: Smarting Serena
Serena Williams embarrassingly exited in the third round at the French Open, a surprise given she's more motivated and in better physical shape than in years past. You can bet she'll be fired up at the All England Club.

Her draw appears tricky, mind you. Up first is Estonian Kaia Kanepi, just outside the seedings. Kanepi reached the French Open quarterfinals and has climbed 40 spots in the rankings since January. In the third round, in what would be one of the women's matches of the first week, 2006 winner Amelie Mauresmo is looming. Mauresmo, though, continues to suffer niggling injuries and retired from a second-round match in Eastbourne with a thigh strain.

Williams, according to the seedings, will meet last year's finalist, Marion Bartoli, in the fourth round. Bartoli isn't 100 percent, either, her wrist the culprit.

Fourth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova may exit if she encounters Kateryna Bondarenko -- a winner in Birmingham, England last week -- in the second. Kuznetsova's performance against Dinara Safina in the French semis was dismal, and she lost early in Eastbourne.

Crafty Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, 18, tangles with Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 16, in the first round -- shouldn't they be in school? The returning Li Na, a quarterfinalist in 2006, most likely meets the young victor.

Prediction: Serena Williams

Third Quarter: Sharapova and Davenport
Lindsay Davenport knows a thing or two about the grass, claiming the 1999 title at Wimbledon and reaching the 2005 final, when she blew a match point against Venus Williams in an epic finale.

If her ailing knee is up for it, Davenport, despite not competing since April, might just sneak into the second week. A hard-hitting contest against France's Aravane Rezai in the second round might intrigue, and possible third-round opponent Elena Dementieva lost to Davenport on her comeback tour in 2007.

Glancing a tad further, the fourth round could bring Safina, full of confidence following her Paris run and a winner over Davenport in Miami this season. Marat Safin's kid sister, however, has yet to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon.

We could be in for a Safina-Sharapova rematch. Sharapova, bundled out of the French by Safina in an ill-tempered thriller, has a cakewalk to the fourth round. Even then, potential challengers Victoria Azarenka and Nadia Petrova wouldn't stand much chance.

Prediction: Sharapova

Fourth Quarter: Venus' tribulations

Which Venus Williams shows up? The one who came out of nowhere to win the title in 2005 and 2007, or the one knocked out early in both 2004 and 2006?

Logic helps little in trying to assess the fortunes of the Williams sisters, but note Venus hasn't reached a tour final this season and exited in the third round at Roland Garros, just like Serena.

She had to rally in the first and third rounds last year against much lesser opponents, though only a more severe meltdown would repeat that trend this time. Her projected fourth-round foe, the grass-adept Daniela Hantuchova, hasn't played since April because of a heel injury.

Things could get interesting for second-seeded Jelena Jankovic in the third round as fast rising Danish teen Caroline Wozniacki, who eliminated Kuznetsova in Eastbourne, figures to be waiting. Jankovic, still struggling to win the big one, hasn't made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon. She did, mind you, team with Jamie Murray in 2007 to capture the mixed doubles crown.

Prediction: Venus Williams

Ivanovic proved at the French she had the mentality of a winner, going for shots when it mattered and maintaining her intensity. But it's difficult to stop the Williams sisters, much more accomplished on grass, when they're on a roll. Expect Serena to comfortably advance.

Venus Williams trounced Sharapova in a stunning fourth-round performance last year and hasn't dropped a set against the Russian in two grass-court outings.

Prediction: Williams sisters to advance

It's about time we had another Williams versus Williams Grand Slam final. The last one was five years ago, at, you guessed it, Wimbledon. That actually marked the fifth straight occasion their head-to-heads came in a major final.

Serena toppled Venus in her two previous winning finals at the All England Club, and this makes it a hat trick.

Prediction: Serena Williams (in three)

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to