Serena Williams poised for busy summer

There's no telling how Serena Williams will play in the U.S. Open next month. But at least this much is guaranteed for the 13-time Grand Slam champion: She will be a lot better prepared for a major tournament this time.

Williams managed to compete in just one event before showing up at Wimbledon in June hoping to defend her title. She lasted until the fourth round before being ousted by Marion Bartoli, hardly a surprise given Williams missed most of a year with injuries and a pulmonary embolism.

But if there is hope for Williams, 29, and for a sport that desperately needs her star power while the next generation emerges, it is her decision to compete regularly this summer in advance of the Open. Williams played for the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis twice last week, including a performance in Washington, D.C., in front of First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia. She is expected to play for the Kastles again July 19 in Albany, N.Y., and July 20 at Randall's Island, N.Y.

After that, it really gets busy. According to the WTA, Williams returns to tournament play at the Bank of the West Classic July 25-31 in Stanford, Calif., and follows with the Rogers Cup in Toronto Aug. 8-14. Officials at the Western and Southern Open (Cincinnati, Aug. 15-21) announced Monday that Williams will be there as well.

If Williams is healthy enough to get through that grind, she will be more than match-tough by the time the U.S. Open begins Aug. 29.

And if she can reach the fourth round at Wimbledon having played only one tournament in a year, imagine what she might be able to do when she is back on top of her game at the Open.

Williams, ranked No. 172 in the world because of the long layoff, might be on her way back.

Asked if she was playing at the same level as before her injury and illness, Kastles coach Murphy Jensen told USA Today and the Washington Post, "She's around the corner. I pick her to win the U.S. Open. I pick her to win four Grand Slams next year. No girl in the world can hit a ball like Serena or Venus Williams."

Of course, that's only when they are playing at their best.

Notes

• Belgian Kim Clijsters, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion, who had to skip Wimbledon this year because of an ankle injury, could be on her way back. She is scheduled to play in the Mercury Insurance Open at Carlsbad, Calif., July 30-Aug. 7, according to the WTA. Clijsters remains ranked No. 2 behind Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, who bowed out of the Collector Swedish Open last week during a match against No. 61 Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden. Wozniacki won the first set 6-2 but was down 1-0 in the second set when she retired with a shoulder injury. Her next scheduled tournament is the Rogers Cup.

• Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was supposed to play a clay-court event at Bad Gastein, Austria this week but pulled out with a leg injury. Her next scheduled tournament is at Carlsbad.

• Happy Birthday to Wozniacki, who turned 21 Monday as she celebrated her 39th week ranked No. 1 in the world (and 21 weeks in a row). That ties her with Amelie Mauresmo for the ninth-longest tenure atop the women's rankings. Wozniacki has a long way to go to catch the all-time leader. Steffi Graf was ranked No. 1 for a record 377 weeks.

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