Momentum on Serena's side
Serena Williams is such a prohibitive favorite to win her sixth Wimbledon singles title that one has to search long and hard to find potential obstacles: opponents who once gave her a tough set at the All-England club, who once reached the quarterfinals there or who have beaten her at other majors.
Not exactly the sort of thing that portends high drama. But then, it's always the off-the-court drama surrounding Williams that is considerably more interesting.
It begins and should end with Williams, who ripped off 102 aces in last year's tournament to rebound from her early exit at the French Open and begin a reign of dominance that is making even the most seasoned veterans search for superlatives.
"She's not only in the best place I've ever seen," John McEnroe said of Williams, "I think she's the best player that's ever lived. I said that a while ago [but] she's cementing it in everyone's mind. She's just a level above anyone. There's no doubt about it."
Sure, no player has won the French and Wimbledon back-to-back since 2002. But it was Williams who pulled it off. Having already won at Roland Garros two weeks ago, can she do it again?
Here's how the Wimbledon draw breaks down by quarter:
The defending champion and top seed, Williams is riding a 31-match winning streak. She is a combined 37-4 against the top five and 62-7 against the top 10. If those stats aren't imposing enough, only two of the other 127 players in the draw have defeated her at Wimbledon.
Williams could face Zheng Jie, who reached the Wimbledon semifinals back in 2008 and forced a 9-7 third set against Williams there last year.
In the third round, Williams is slated to meet Tamira Paszek, the 28th seed and a Wimbledon quarterfinalist the past two years. In the fourth round, Williams would have to get past No. 14 seed Sam Stosur, who has beaten her at a major two times previously. To make this meeting a reality, though, Stosur would have to advance past the third round here for the first time in her career.
In the quarters, No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber could be waiting. A Wimbledon semifinalist and French Open quarterfinalist in 2012, Kerber defeated Williams last summer at the Western & Southern Open, a hard-court tournament, halting Williams' then-19-match winning streak.
Prediction: Williams over Kerber
No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 6 Li Na are the obvious candidates to reach the semifinals and draw the dubious assignment of meeting Williams.
Li, 31, was a finalist at the Australian Open to start the year, but leading up to Eastbourne -- the women's grass-court warm-up for Wimbledon -- had not advanced past the second round in three tournaments. If she can get to the third round this time, she is likely to meet No. 32 Klara Zakopalova, while No. 11 Roberta Vinci, who reached the Round of 16 last year, would loom next.
Radwanska, meanwhile, reached last year's Wimbledon final before losing to Williams in three sets. It was the first time Radwanska had advanced past the quarters in a slam, but she was unable to replicate that success in Melbourne or Paris this year. She did, though, reach the final of last year's WTA Championships.
Radwanska has a tougher draw than she did a year ago, but should still get through to the quarters. She could face Madison Keys in the third round or Britain's Heather Watson, before meeting No. 13 seed Nadia Petrova, who last year lost in the third round to Camila Giorgi.
Prediction: Radwanska over Li
Italy's Sara Errani, the No. 5 seed, is a clay-court specialist who has never been past the third round at Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam in which she has yet to reach the quarterfinals.
She made the semifinals at the French last month, but it is a match she'd rather forget, a 6-0, 6-1 thrashing by Williams. Errani could have trouble, but should get past No. 27 Varvara Lepchenko.
More interesting should be the first-round clash between Americans Sloane Stephens and Jamie Hampton. Stephens upset Williams at this year's Australian Open and advanced to the fourth round at the French, while Hampton reached the finals at Eastbourne this week. Either of those two have a chance to meet Errani in the fourth round, but would have to get past former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who exited Wimbledon in the first round in 2012.
After that, attention turns to Maria Sharapova, who will likely face off against Melanie Oudin. The young American defeated Sharapova in the second round of the 2009 U.S. Open. Also lurking in the quarter is former Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli.
Prediction: Sharapova over Wozniacki
No. 8 seed and 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has been unsteady lately, but a quarterfinal showdown with No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka still seems likely. Kvitova's only two Wimbledon losses in the past three years have come at the hands of Williams. She will have to get past Yaroslava Shvedova -- who reached the fourth round before a three-set loss to Williams last year -- No. 25 Ekaterina Makarova and the aggressive No. 12 Ana Ivanovic -- who reached the Wimbledon semis in 2007.
Azarenka, this year's Australian Open champ, should meet No. 16 Jelena Jankovic, who has never advanced past the fourth round at Wimbledon, in yes, the fourth round. Azarenka is the last person to beat Williams and has reached the semis or better in six of the past eight slams, including last year's Wimbledon.
Azarenka has lost her past four meeting with Kvitova, including both grass-court matches. But they have not played since 2011.
Prediction: Azarenka over Kvitova
Semifinals: Williams over Radwanska; Sharapova over Azarenka
Final: Williams over Sharapova