Serena draws Wimbledon's wrath
Can Serena Williams salvage her Grand Slam season, tie Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert with 18 majors, and hoist her sixth Wimbledon trophy next month?
It's not going to be easy.
Williams is still the favorite and the No. 1 seed, but her road to the final is brutal. Maria Sharapova, the No. 5 seed and reigning French Open champion, lurks as a potential quarterfinal opponent, and she might be the least of Williams' problems.
Back in 2004, Sharapova beat Williams on grass for the Wimbledon title, but Sharapova has reached only one Wimbledon final since and lost in the second round at the All England Club last year.
But more important, Williams has had Sharapova's number pretty much ever since, beating the Russian 15 times in a row.
Here's one thing we do know: Since last year's winner, Marion Bartoli, has retired, there will be a new champion.
Serena Williams is the No. 1 player in the world, but she hasn't added a Grand Slam to her trove yet this season. The 32-year-old lost in the second round at the French Open and in the round of 16 at the Australian Open, where she fell to a resurgent Ana Ivanovic. Still, five of Williams' 17 Grand Slam titles have come at Wimbledon. She's going to have to earn No. 6.
Starting in the third round, Williams could face Alize Cornet, who beat Williams in their most recent meeting. If she survives that, the winner of a potential clash between 2014 French Open semifinalists Andrea Petkovic and Eugenie Bouchard could await. While neither of those has a track record on grass, Bouchard certainly has shown she has the potential to contend at Slams for years to come. It just might not be yet. And then, it could be Sharapova in the quarters.
It's a rough draw, no doubt, but the potential high-profile clash between Sharapova and Williams could have more bark than bite. Sharapova, the reigning French Open champ, hasn't beat Williams in a WTA match since 2004. In the last 10 matches -- all won by Williams -- only one has gone to a third set. Those Williams wins include two on grass over Sharapova.
Considering the highest seed in this quarter, No. 3 Simona Halep, has never made it past the second round at Wimbledon, this quarter is full of intrigue.
If Halep does navigate her way to the quarters, her most likely opponent would be the winner of a round of 16 match between Serbian stars Ana Ivanovic, the No. 11 seed, and Jelena Jankovic, the No. 7 seed. Ivanovic has won three titles this year, tied with Serena and Sharapova for most on tour, including her first career win on grass at Birmingham last week.
Jankovic has reached five WTA semifinals this season. Her last three Wimbledon tournaments have been duds, but either Jankovic and Ivanovic could have the advantage over an inexperienced Halep.
Victoria Azarenka is back after missing three months with a foot injury. She is seeded No. 8 and her draw is favorable. But the question is, how much of Azarenka's game is returning to Wimbledon with her?
Azarenka could reach the quarterfinal or lose in the first round, as she did in the Aegon Championships last week, her first tournament back.
An early Azarenka departure could open the door for a player like No. 27 Garbine Muguruza or No. 10 Dominika Cibulkova, the Australian Open finalist, to go a few extra rounds.
But most likely, it would give last year's Wimbledon semifinalist and 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska a chance to emerge again. Radwanska, the No. 4 seed, lost to Sabine Lisicki last year and Serena Williams the year before. For Radwanska, hope springs eternal.
Second-seeded Li Na is packed into this quarter with a number of solid players. There is five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams at No. 30, 2011 champion Petra Kvitova at No. 6, American Sloane Stephens at No. 18, 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur at No. 17 and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki at No. 16.
Any one of those players could make a run, and a few of them could just as easily lose in the first round.
Li, the reigning Australian Open champion and a better hard-court player, has reached three Wimbledon quarterfinals but has never gotten beyond that. This is a tough one to call, but the challengers are all lacking; Stosur is 19-14 this season, Williams has not played well in Grand Slams recently, Stephens has been up and down, and Wozniacki lost in the first round of the French Open after a very public breakup.
Semifinal predictions: Williams def. Ivanovic; Radwanska def. Li
Final: Williams def. Radwanska