Philadelphia, PA – When Wimbledon gets underway next week, Serena Williams will be there as the defending champion and five-time overall winner.
Will she make it victory No. 6?
It's probably safe to say that a member of the "Big Three" will be presented with the Venus Rosewater Dish in a couple of weeks ... and why not?
Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka have combined to win the last six Grand Slam women's singles titles, and one of the three formidable ladies has been the runner-up at three of those six major events.
Serena has been nothing short of incredible over the last 12 months, going 74-3 since a stunning French Open loss last June, including the biggest of championships at the French Open, U.S. Open, Wimbledon and Olympic Games. She's riding an unstoppable, career-best 31-match winning streak, 23 of which came on her "least favorite" surface, clay.
The world No. 1 American great is a 16-time Grand Slam singles champ, with five of the titles coming at the venerable All England Club, where she's also a two-time runner-up. Only Aussie Margaret Court (24), German Steffi Graf (22), and Americans Helen Wills Moody (19), Chris Evert (18) and Martina Navratilova (18) own more major singles championships than the 31-year-old Williams. And only Graf, Evert and Navratilova have captured more Grand Slam wins than Serena in the all-important Open Era (since 1968).
Can Serena catch any of these women? Well, it certainly looks like Evert and Navratilova are within reach, perhaps as early as this year at the U.S. Open. Obviously it would take a lot more work to join the likes of Court and Graf at the very top. But the possibility is looking good for the American star.
Note: Navratilova holds the Open Era record with nine Wimbledon titles, while Graf is second with seven. Wills Moody piled up eight such championships during the Amateur Era.
The mighty Serena has won eight of the last 16 Grand Slam events she's entered, including three of the last four Wimbledon titles, dating back to the 2008 U.S. Open.
Meanwhile, the 26-year-old former No. 1 Sharapova, like her contemporary Serena, is a career Grand Slam artist, having won each of the majors on one occasion. She was the reigning French Open champion until a resolute Serena dethroned her two weeks ago. The Russian superstar captured her lone Wimbledon title by stunning Serena in the 2004 finale as a spry 17-year-old, and was a Wimbledon runner-up to Czech left-hander Petra Kvitova two years ago.
Sharapova also gave way to Serena in last year's blockbuster (but ultimately very one-sided) gold medal match, when the tennis portion of the Olympic Games was staged on the famed grass at the All England Club.
The steady Maria has reached at least the semis in seven of the last nine major events, including four finals and last year's French Open title.
The former top-ranked Azarenka is a two-time Grand Slam champion, but has yet to produce a major title outside the Australian Open, where she's captured the last two championships.
The fierce Belarusian star was also last year's U.S. Open runner-up to the great Serena and hopes she can reach that elusive first-ever Wimbledon finale next month. Her last two trips to the AEC saw the Minsk native reach the final four ... but nary a final.
Is this the year?
The 24-year-old Azarenka has reached at least the semifinals in six of the last eight Slams and appeared in three major finals (2-1).
So do we even need to talk about anybody outside the exclusive group that is Big Three?
Probably not, but we'll do so just to amuse the non-believers.
The top also-rans at The Championships, Wimbledon will include the likes of last year's runner-up to Serena, Agnieszka Radwanska, Aussie Open runner-up and former French Open champ Li Na, and the former Wimbledon victor Kvitova.
Radwanska is certainly dangerous on any surface, especially on grass, where her creativity and net play can be rewarded. Last year, she made history by becoming the first-ever Pole to reach a Wimbledon final and the first Polish Grand Slam finalist in 73 years (Jadwiga Jedrzejowska at the 1939 French Championships).
The 24-year-old has been the best player not named Serena, Maria or Victoria on tour over the last two years, but she hasn't been able to produce against the Big Three, which leads one to believe she won't run the table at SW19, where a semifinal appearance should be in order.
Li also has been steady over the last year, highlighted by a trip into this year's Aussie Open final, but I believe she might be allergic to grass. The Chinese star has never made it past the quarterfinals at the "Big W" and was a second-round loser there each of the last two years.
The left-handed slugger Kvitova can definitely win it all on grass, as evidenced by her Wimbledon title two years ago, but her form has been "off" in recent weeks and this scribe would be stunned if Wimby title No. 2 came in a few weeks. Having said that, the 23-year-old does play her best major tennis at the AEC, where she's gone semis-title-quarters, respectively, the last three years.
Note: When Kvitova titled at Wimby in 2011, she became the first person born in the 1990s to capture a Slam.
Who else could sneak in there? Top-10ers like former French Open runner-up Sara Errani, German southpaw Angelique Kerber, former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki or Russian glamour girl Maria Kirilenko?
And are there any dark horses outside the top 10, like 33-year-old five-time winner Venus Williams? No way. With all due respect to "V," her Wimbledon glory/Grand Slam-winning days are well in the rear-view mirror.
Note: Venus and Serena have combined to win 10 of the last 13 Wimbledon titles.
It's time to make another pick, and, quite simply, how could you pick anybody but Serena right now?