By Pritha Sarkar
Twelve months on from making the most bizarre of exits from Wimbledon, drama queen Serena Williams will be back at the All England Club next week eager to complete the ‘Serena Slam’.
As the holder of the US, Australian and French Open titles, the American is seven wins away from holding all four majors at the same time – a feat she last achieved as a 21-year-old.
A dozen years later, the 33-year-old is ready and primed to trample over anyone who dares to stand in the way of another clean sweep.
“I would never have expected at this time in my career to win three grand slams in a row. This for me is unbelievable,” the world number one said after winning her 20th major at Roland Garros.
“I’m really excited … I’ve got a Serena Slam and I’m close to another.”
To achieve that, however, she needs to avoid the kind of drama witnessed in her last appearance at Wimbledon or even at the French Open this month.
Twelve months ago a dizzy and disorientated Williams cut a sorry figure as she walked off the hallowed turf in tears after serving a whole game of double faults in a doubles match.
It was a case of deju vu at this year’s French Open when a clearly out-of-sorts Williams again struggled to stay on her feet during her semi-final against Timea Bacsinszky.
While her desire to win at all costs allowed the American to keep alive her dreams of completing a non-calendar grand slam, tennis great Chris Evert believes Williams cannot afford such slips-ups at Wimbledon, where the slick surface can be unforgiving.
“When she is at her best she is better than anybody else. But at the same time we’ve seen some hiccups and we’ve seen some drama, like at the French Open,” Evert told a teleconference organised by ESPN.
“She can’t afford to have any more drama like at the French Open. It wouldn’t surprise me if she won. At the same time it wouldn’t surprise me either if she had a bad loss.”
Two of those bad losses came at Wimbledon over the past two years – to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round in 2013 and Alize Cornet in the third round 12 months later.
“At Wimbledon the monkey is on my back because I have not done well there in a couple of years. Considering how well I have done there for so many years, I now consistently do terrible there so that is the one I really want to do well in,” said Williams, who captured the last of her five Wimbledon titles in 2012.
With only Steffi Graf (22) and Margaret Court (24) ahead of her in the list of all-time slam winners, Williams knows that she has only limited time left to climb on top of that list.
“She’s chasing history in terms of her grand slam titles. She’s going for a Grand Slam, which is obviously so rare,” said John McEnroe.
“That should be significant motivation.”
With so much focus on Williams, it is easy to forget that 127 of the world’s fittest women athletes will be out to try and steal the spotlight from the American.
hief among them will be holder Petra Kvitova and five-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova.
With all of the main contenders opting not to play competitively during the extended three-week build-up to the grass court major, it will be battle on when Wimbledon swings open its gates on Monday.