LONDON: In the 1204 rankings in the world and without a competitive singles match in 12 months, Serena Williams will enter Wimbledon aiming for what would be her biggest triumph.
The seven-time All England Club champion will also chase a record 24th Grand Slam title.
Rarely have the chances been so complex against a great American who can become the first holderless woman to win Wimbledon.
With only three months left until her 41st birthday, Williams has not played a single match on tour since she left Wimbledon in tears in the first round against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in 2021.
The American star was frustratedly left without 23 tournament slams since winning the 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 tournaments remained out of touch.
– ‘I didn’t retire’ –
“I didn’t retire. I just needed to recover physically, mentally. I didn’t have any plans. I just didn’t know when I was coming back. I didn’t know how I was going to come back,” the 40-year-old said on Saturday.
Williams warmed up for Wimbledon by playing doubles with Onsa Jabeur at Eastbourne and is starting his All England Club campaign against Frenchman Harmony Tan, who is 113th and making his tournament debut.
When Williams played her first Wimbledon in 1998, current world number one Iga Swiatek was still three years away from birth.
The 21-year-old Pole arrives at the tournament with his second secured French Open title and a run of 35 wins.
That equaled Venus Williams with 35 consecutive wins in 2000 for the longest winning run of a woman in the 21st century.
He also improved Serena ‘s score of 34.
“I saw Serena on Friday, I was pretty thrilled,” said Swiatek who has six titles in 2022.
– ‘Legend’ –
“It’s great to see her nearby because she’s such a legend. There’s no one who’s done so much in tennis.”
Wimbledon will test her ability to hold a race in which last year’s fourth round was her best performance even though she was the 2018 junior champion.
“The grass is always tricky. I actually like the part where I have no expectations. It’s something refreshing,” she said.
Swiatek will meet Croatian qualifier Jana Fett in the first round on Tuesday.
The women’s draw remains open, and title defender Ashleigh Barty retired earlier this year.
Four-time big winner Naomi Osaka, a rarely serious threat on the grass, withdrew due to an Achilles injury.
The Japanese star, the world’s highest-earning athlete, has already expressed reservations about participating.
She feared Wimbledon’s status was reduced to an exhibition tournament after the ATP and WTA stripped him of points in the standings.
It was a response to the ban imposed on Russian and Belarusian players after the invasion of Ukraine.
Three of the top 20 women will therefore miss Wimbledon – Aryna Sabalenka, last year’s semifinalist, 2018 quarterfinalist Daria Kasatkina and Victoria Azarenka, semifinalist in 2011 and 2012.
None of the top five ever made it to the semifinals.
Ons Jabeur has reached the round of 16 in 2021, Paul Bados, as well as Swiatek, have yet to advance beyond the fourth round.
Second-placed Anett Kontaveit and fifth-ranked world tennis player Maria Sakkari still have to make it to the 32nd final.
British hopes for the first women’s title after Virginia Wade in 1977 rest on the surprise of US Open winner Emma Raducanu who comes to the tournament nurturing side tension.
The 19-year-old said she is still getting used to her rapid rise to fame.
“I definitely feel like the people behind me. Even from some people working in the tournament, they’re like, You got this. I’m just cheering me on,” she said.
“One of the benefits is that I don’t have to cross the road in Aoranga to practice on field 28 or anything like that now.”