All eyes will be on Serena Williams when Wimbledon gets underway next week as the seven-time champion bids to win her first Grand Slam crown since becoming a mother.
Williams’ two-year reign as Wimbledon champion ended 12 months ago when she missed the grass-court Grand Slam while she prepared for the September birth of her first child.
In the American’s absence, Spain’s Garbine Muguruza won Wimbledon for the first time with a final victory over Serena’s sister Venus.
Winning Wimbledon for the eighth time in her 18th visit — coinciding with the event’s 150th anniversary — would be another memorable moment for Serena on the Centre Court she regards as a second home.
But Williams has made only a tentative return to action following complications during daughter Alexis Olympia’s birth.
The 36-year-old was beaten by Venus at Indian Wells in March and suffered a dismal first round exit against Naomi Osaka in Miami.
Williams played her first Grand Slam for over a year at the French Open last month, reaching the fourth round before a shoulder injury forced her to quit ahead of her clash with old rival Maria Sharapova.
Not seen on court since Paris, Serena has still loomed large over the tennis world as the debate rages over whether she should be seeded at Wimbledon.
Williams is ranked 183 after her pregnancy absence, but she is a former world number one who won the last Grand Slam she competed in at the 2017 Australian Open.
As a 23-time major winner, many believe Serena deserves to be seeded regardless of her current reduced status.
However, French Open chiefs decided against seeding Williams.
Williams will use a protected ranking to enter Wimbledon, but their seedings committee will decide this week whether she should be included among the top 32 in the draw.
Asked where he would rank his compatriot at Wimbledon, American legend John McEnroe said: “Somewhere between one and 10 – one and 16 at the worst.
“I don’t think there would be a player that would complain, especially the top ones, if she was one of the top eight.
As for the argument that seeding Williams might be unfair to the player edged out of the top 32, McEnroe responded: “What’s her name? No offence. You’re talking about Serena.”
Given her wealth of experience and a lethal serve that is especially potent on grass, Williams should be a threat regardless of her seeding.
Muguruza has the power and poise to trouble her, but the 24-year-old’s form comes in fits and starts.
“She’s Serena Williams and she can play incredible. You can never underestimate a champion like her, even though she didn’t play as much,” Muguruza said.
Muguruza, who also reached the Wimbledon final in 2015, dropped just one set in seven matches at the All England Club en route to her second Grand Slam title last year.
“I know it’s going to be so important to go back, it’s going to be an amazing feeling to go on the court again and just remember a little bit the feelings from last year,” Muguruza added.
World number one Simona Halep finally won her maiden Grand Slam in Paris earlier this month and though her game is better suited to clay, she has reached two successive Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Sloane Stephens’ record at Wimbledon is mediocre, but she has been inspired since returning from an 11-month lay-off with a foot injury.
The 25-year-old American won the 2017 US Open and reached this year’s French Open final to climb to fourth in the rankings.
Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, would be a popular winner after battling back into the top 10 following the horrific stabbing that derailed her career in 2016.
As for Sharapova, who famously inflicted one of Serena’s most painful defeats in the 2004 Wimbledon final, the Russian has not played a match on grass since 2015 following her doping ban and injury last year.