Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Chris Evert says she would be shocked if Serena Williams were able to defend her Wimbledon crown when the tournament begins Monday.
“It would be monumental in my mind if Serena pulled off a win [at Wimbledon],” Evert, a former world No. 1 and 18-time Grand Slam winner, said Monday on an ESPN conference call.
“You can never count her out. But I don’t know how it’s humanly possible for someone to take a year off like that and have gone through what she’s been through physically … and [has only had] a one-tournament warmup.”
After battling a badly cut foot and blood clots in both lungs, Williams played her first competitive match in 12 months Tuesday at the Wimbledon tuneup in Eastbourne, England.
She dropped the first set but rallied past Tsvetana Pironkova, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, in a first-round match.
“I am a little rusty, but really enjoy playing here,” Williams, 29, told Bloomberg news in a court-side interview. “It’s great to be back.”
Williams has won 13 Grand Slams, including last year’s Wimbledon, but Evert said it’s hard to imagine Serena having enough time to lose the rust before the Wimbledon fortnight comes to a close.
“She’s playing Eastbourne and hopefully if she gets through the first week of Wimbledon she’ll have that two weeks behind her. But is that enough? I don’t think it is,” said Evert, who will work the tournament for ESPN.
“But knowing Serena and the way she’s come back before, you can never count her out.”
Williams gashed her foot on broken glass just days after winning Wimbledon last year and subsequently underwent two foot operations. That injury eventually led to her suffering life-threatening blood clots in her lungs in February.
“I was literally on my deathbed at one point,” the four-time Wimbledon champ said Monday at Eastbourne.
“A lot of people die from that because you don’t recognize it,” she added. “Me being an athlete, I couldn’t breathe, I honestly just thought I was out of shape. So I thought I needed to get on the treadmill or something. They just said it could have gotten a lot more serious a day later or two days later. It could have been really not good. It could have possibly been career-ending, but for the grace of God I got there in time and I was able to recover.”
Serena is currently ranked 25th in the world and her older sister, Venus, who has played sparingly in the last year as well, is ranked 33rd, which could make the seeding for Wimbledon interesting.
Tournament executives could opt to place both women in the top 10 or 15 of the seedings to reflect their success. They have combined to win nine of the last 11 Wimbledon titles.
“I would like to see them both be in the Top 15, maybe the Top 10,” Evert said. “That will be the big question, what will the committee do?”
“I think you’ve gotta put them at 7 or 8, or 6 and 7,” said ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert. “The last time I checked they’ve won nine out of the last 11 Wimbledons.
Venus won her opening match at Eastbourne over Andrea Petkovic, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3. She had to quit her third-round match against Petkovic at the Australian Open in January because of a hip injury.
“Whenever they [the sisters] enter a grand slam tournament it’s double the excitement and double the intrigue,” Evert said. “They just bring a different level of tennis also, as far as the power and the emotional content.
“Venus is a dark horse because really Serena gets all the press but Venus will come into the tournament very quietly. She does the job.
“She loves grass and she plays great on it. She’s definitely in contention.”
While all eyes will be on the Williams’ Sisters when the fortnight begins, Evert says don’t count out Australian Open champ Kim Clijsters, French Open winner Li Na or 2004 Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova.
“Sharapova’s done really well this year and she’s been consistently a semifinalist or finalist,” Evert said. “She’s won Wimbledon before and is mentally a really tough player.
“You can’t count out Li Na and Kim Clistjers who has got a nice, powerful, solid game, an all-court game. If she’s healthy, she’s a contender.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.