Serena Williams ready to fire at Wimbledon

 

Serena Williams summons as much force behind her forthright views as she does her phenomenal forehand.

Just ask Japanese line judge Shino Tsurubuchi, down whose throat she forcefully threatened to lodge a tennis ball at the US Open five years ago, whether the Williams way with words makes an impact.

Or Maria Sharapova, palpably the target of a Williams swipe in Rolling Stone magazine just prior to Wimbledon last year, when the American suggested the Russian's attitude to interviews was "so boring", predicted she would never be invited to "the cool parties" and added a thinly-veiled swipe at Sharapova's boyfriend, and her own ex, Grigor Dimitrov. "The guy with a black heart" was Williams' term.

So when Williams warned her rivals she would "work five times as hard to make sure I never lose again" after a painful French Open defeat in late May, the easily unnerved might have wondered whether to turn up for Wimbledon at all this year.

The five-time champion starts her 15th Wimbledon campaign as a firm title favourite, a familiar status since sister Venus waved her through to extend the dynasty.

Should she nudge one title ahead of fellow five-time Wimbledon winner Venus in the family stakes, Serena might well reference defeat to Garbine Muguruza at Roland Garros as the critical spur to a sixth success in SW19.

The second-round exit left Serena, by her reckoning, "super disappointed".

"I'm going to go home and work five times as hard to make sure I never lose again," she said.

"If I couldn't play better I would be even more disappointed. But I know I can, so I know I have something to look forward to."

The 32-year-old was addressing a room full of journalists but the message was a guided missile for anybody with designs on denying her Wimbledon glory.

Home in Florida beckoned, with Serena unwinding alongside Caroline Wozniacki, the Dane bearing wounds of a very different kind after her public split from fiance Rory McIlroy. Paparazzi shots of the pair tossing around a ball in the sea showed a different, playful side to Serena, but it was soon down to business on the practice courts.

Serena has won titles in Brisbane, Miami and Rome already this year, but Petra Kvitova, Jana Cepelova, Alize Cornet and Ana Ivanovic are all able to point to wins over the American.

Sharapova, fresh from winning the French Open, might be perceived as posing the biggest threat to Serena at Wimbledon. But relate that to their last 15 matches, all won by Serena ("I love playing her. I really do," Williams says of Sharapova), and perhaps there is a more subtle obstacle to overcome.

Providing she underestimates nobody, a healthy Serena will take some stopping as she pursues an 18th singles grand slam accolade.

A year ago she was booted out in the fourth round by eventual runner-up Sabine Lisicki, the German who thrives at Wimbledon above all other tournaments and must again be considered a contender.

Sharapova clearly cannot be overlooked but she has never won more than one grand slam in a calendar year, never mind landing back-to-back majors.

Where else might the threat come from? Perhaps Agnieszka Radwanska will come through the draw again, as she did before pushing Serena to three sets in the 2012 final. Or Victoria Azarenka might get her game together on grass to reach a first Wimbledon final.

Simona Halep's quarter-final showing at the Australian Open and impressive strut to the French Open final marks the Romanian down as a menace, despite never previously going beyond the second round.

But leftfield can be the territory from which finalists emerge at Wimbledon, occasionally even champions as Marion Bartoli proved 12 months ago.

Could Wozniacki, a former world number one whose game has lately gone off the boil, rediscover prime form and purge her recent sorrow?

The odds are stacked against her.

More likely Serena, who rallied to Wozniacki's side after that most tormenting of relationship splits, will be rallying opponents off court come July 5, finals day.

PA

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