Serena Williams turns focus on Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England – Five-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams isn't concerned that she was passed over for the chance to open play on Center Court Tuesday.

All-England Club officials bestowed that honor on last year's finalist Sabine Lisicki since defending champion Marion Bartoli is now retired.

Williams' second-round loss at the French Open? That's a different story.

Asked by reporters Saturday how long it took her to get over the stunning 6-2, 6-2 defeat to Garbine Muguruza, top-seeded Williams smiled and said: "Who says I was over it?"

With her dominant serve and first-strike capability, Williams remains the favorite to add to her fistful of Wimbledon crowns.

But the 32-year-old American is once again feeling the heat.

Despite her No. 1 ranking, she has failed to advance past the fourth round in three of her last four majors.

"I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on her because she did not do well in the last two Grand Slams, pretty much had bad losses," said Chris Evert on an ESPN conference call with reporters last week.

But no one does rebound like Williams.

"She's motivated," said her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, following her early French Open exit. "She wants to do well. She wants to come back to practice. She wants to solve things. And we will."

As in Paris, the women's field could be a messy, wide open, entertaining affair with plenty of young challengers aiming to hunt down established stars.

French Open winner Maria Sharapova returns to the site of her first Grand Slam victory in 2004 brimming with confidence. But the 27-year-old Russian has yet to repeat as champion, and hasn't reached the quarterfinals since 2011.

"In the last couple years my results were certainly nowhere near I would have wanted it to be," said fifth-seeded Sharapova, who is slated to meet Williams in the last eight.

A group of young challengers will be in the mix.

Simona Halep, who battled Sharapova in one of the more entertaining women's finals in years, declared herself fit after retiring from her second-round match at s'-Hertogenbosch Wednesday.

The in-form Romanian is on the short list of favorites, having won a title on grass last year and pushed Williams to three-sets at Wimbledon in 2011.

"I feel good on grass," said No. 3 seed Halep, who received red carpet treatment at the airport in Bucharest after Roland Garros. "I play good. I like (it) because the balls are coming fast and the game is faster than clay court and than hard court."

Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, 20, reached the semifinals at both the French Open and the Australian Open in January and has the instincts and killer mentality of a champion.

Spain's Garbine Muguruza, 20, used her aggressive style and flat strokes to deal Williams the most lopsided defeat of her Grand Slam career in Paris.

The USA's Sloane Stephens, a quarterfinalist here a year ago, and Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia are also ones to watch. Both are 21.

"I think the new trends is these youngsters are coming out and are not afraid to beat the big players and the established players," said France's Bartoli on Sunday.

Williams isn't the only player looking to bounce back in London.

Australian Open champion Li Na of China, seeded second, and No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up, have the game for grass and will be eager to recover from disappointing French Open performances.

Ditto No. 19 seed Lisicki of Germany, who is 8-8 in 2014 and hasn't reached a quarterfinal in 11 events this year.

Then there's Victoria Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1 from Belarus. The No. 8 seed is largely untested, having played one match since March due to a left foot injury.

Meantime, two American women left mark on grass with first-ever WTA titles over the weekend.

Madison Keys, 19, defeated ninth-ranked Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in the women's final at Eastbourne. Coco Vandeweghe captured the title at s-Hertogenbosch.

It's the first time since 2002 that two American women have won titles in the same week. Can they use the momentum for more?

Still, all eyes will be on Williams and her quest to match Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 Grand Slam titles.

"If she can get through the first week, that's going to be the big thing," said Evert. "Once she gets through the first week, gets the ball rolling, gets more comfortable on the grass, she'll be unbeatable."

Plus, noted Mouratoglou, a hurting Williams is a dangerous Williams.

"I'm happy when she's destroyed when she fails," he said. "That's also why she's so good."


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