World number 1,204 Serena eyes greatest triumph at Wimbledon
Ranked a lowly 1,204 in the world and without a competitive singles match in 12 months, Serena Williams will sweep into Wimbledon targeting what would be her greatest triumph.
The seven-time champion at the All England Club will also be chasing down a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
The odds have rarely been so stacked against the great American who can become the first unseeded woman to win Wimbledon.
With her 41st birthday just three months away, Williams hasn’t played a singles tie on tour since limping out of Wimbledon in tears in the first round against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in 2021.
The American star has been frustratingly marooned on 23 Slams since winning a seventh Australian Open in 2017 while pregnant.
She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2018 and 2019 as Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 majors remained out of touch.
‘I didn’t retire’
“I didn’t retire. I just needed to heal physically, mentally. I had no plans. I just didn’t know when I would come back. I didn’t know how I would come back,” said the 40-year-old on Saturday.
Williams warmed up for Wimbledon by playing doubles with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne and starts her All England Club campaign against France’s Harmony Tan, ranked 113 and who is making her tournament debut.
When Williams played her first Wimbledon in 1998, current world number one Iga Swiatek was still three years away from being born.
The 21-year-old Pole arrives at the tournament with a second French Open title secured and on a 35-match win streak.
That equaled Venus Williams’ 35 straight victories in 2000 for the longest winning run by a woman in the 21st century.
It also bettered Serena’s mark of 34.
“I saw Serena on Friday, I was pretty overwhelmed,” said Swiatek who has six titles to her name in 2022.
“Just seeing her around is great because she’s such a legend, there’s nobody that has done so much in tennis.”
Wimbledon will test her ability to keep the run going where last year’s fourth round was her best performance even though she was junior champion in 2018.
“Grass is always tricky. I actually like the part that I have no expectations there. It’s something kind of refreshing,” she said.
Swiatek faces Croatian qualifier Jana Fett in the first round on Tuesday.
The women’s draw remains open with defending champion Ashleigh Barty having retired earlier this year.
Four-time major winner Naomi Osaka, rarely a serious threat on grass, has withdrawn with an Achilles injury.
The Japanese star, the world’s highest-earning sportswoman, had already expressed reservations over taking part.
She feared the status of Wimbledon had been reduced to that of an exhibition tournament after the ATP and WTA stripped it of ranking points.
That was in response to the ban imposed on Russian and Belarusian players in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine.
Three of the top 20 women will therefore miss Wimbledon — Aryna Sabalenka, a semi-finalist last year, 2018 quarter-finalist Daria Kasatkina and Victoria Azarenka, a 2011 and 2012 semi-finalist.
None of the top five have ever made it to the semi-finals.
Ons Jabeur reached the last-eight in 2021, Paula Badosa, like Swiatek, has yet to progress beyond the fourth round.
Second-ranked Anett Kontaveit and world number five Maria Sakkari have still to get past the last 32.
British hopes of a first women’s champion since Virginia Wade in 1977 rest with surprise US Open winner Emma Raducanu who comes into the tournament nursing a side strain.
The 19-year-old said she is still getting accustomed to her rapid rise to fame.
“I definitely feel that people are behind me. Even from some of the people working on the tournament, they’re like, You got this. Just cheering me on,” she said.
“One of the perks is I don’t need to cross the road at Aorangi to practice now on like Court 28 or something.”