By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Former world number one Chris Evert said she would be shocked if Serena Williams retained her Wimbledon crown this year although she stopped short of ruling her fellow American out of contention.

Williams returned on Tuesday with a scratchy first-round victory over Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova at Eastbourne -- her first match for nearly a year because of a badly cut foot and serious health issues.

"It would be monumental in my mind if Serena pulled off a win (at Wimbledon)," Evert said in a 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.

"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," added Evert who will be commentating on the third grand slam of the year for


"But knowing Serena and the way she's come back before, you can never count her out."

Serena gashed her foot on broken glass just days after winning Wimbledon last year and that injury eventually led to her suffering life-threatening blood clots in her lungs.


Venus Williams also made a winning return at Eastbourne on Monday after five months off with abdominal and hip injuries.

"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."

"(Maria) Sharapova's done really well this year and she's been consistently a semi-finalist or finalist," said the American. "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."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez).