Published June 22, 2012
| Sports Network
London, England – Maria Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam earlier this month with her long-awaited triumph at the French Open, but she will have a difficult road toward claiming a second Wimbledon crown.
Sharapova is the top seed at the All England Club for the first time, but the 2004 champion in the London suburb has a tough draw with numerous potential pitfalls throughout, including four former Grand Slam champions in her half.
After opening with Russian-born Australian Anastasia Rodionova, Sharapova could meet Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova in round two. Pironkova has already proven herself as a more than capable grass player, having reached the Wimbledon semifinals two years ago and the quarterfinals last year.
Potential fourth-round opponents for Sharapova include German 15th seed Sabine Lisicki, a semifinalist last year, or Czech Petra Cetkovska, who reached the fourth round a year ago.
A host of notable players could await Sharapova in the quarterfinals, including four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters, former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva and eighth-seeded German Angelique Kerber.
Clijsters, who pulled out of the Den Bosch semifinals on Friday because of an abdominal injury, will take on Jankovic in a marquee first-round matchup. Clijsters, unseeded at Wimbledon for the first time since 2000, has never been farther than semifinal appearances in 2003 and 2006. Jankovic, seeded 18th, was ousted in the first round last year and has never been past the fourth round at Wimbledon.
The bottom quarter of the top half of the draw is led by third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska. The Polish star was bounced in the second round last year and was a quarterfinalist in 2008 and '09. She could face another early exit, as five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams could be her opponent in round two. The unseeded Venus will open with Russian veteran Elena Vesnina.
Two other Grand Slam champs -- Samantha Stosur and Li Na -- are also featured in the bottom quarter of the top half. The fifth-seeded Stosur has not fared well at the All England Club with first-round flameouts each of the past two years, while the 11th-seeded Li followed up her French Open title last year with a second-round exit, although the Chinese star has twice been a quarterfinalist, including as recently as 2010.
Petra Kvitova is the defending Wimbledon champ, having beaten Sharapova in last year's final. Seeded fourth this year, the Czech will open against Uzbekistan's Akgul Amanmuradova and appears to have an easy road to the fourth round, where she could meet Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova -- a quarterfinalist last year -- or former French Open champ Francesca Schiavone.
Potential quarterfinal opponents for Kvitova include Italy's Sara Errani and American Serena Williams. Errani, seeded 10th, made a surprising run to the French Open final earlier this month, while the sixth-seeded Serena will be trying for a fifth Wimbledon crown and will take on Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the opening round. The 13-time Grand Slam champ was ousted in the fourth round last year and is coming off a stunning first-round loss at Roland Garros -- her first-ever opening-round loss in a major.
Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka heads the bottom quarter and will meet American Irina Falconi in the first round. A semifinalist last year, Azarenka could meet former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round, while 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli, two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki are possible quarterfinal foes.
Play opens on the famed lawns of the London suburb on Monday.