Tennis-'Golden opportunity' awaits Serena at Wimbledon


FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - July 14, 2018 Serena Williams of the U.S. waves after losing the women's singles final against Germany's Angelique Kerber REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

(Reuters) - Opportunity knocks for Serena Williams on the grass courts of Wimbledon next week when she faces a diminished field on her best surface at the famous All England Club.

Williams, 39, continues her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title but her inconsistency has left many to wonder if the hard-hitting American has the mental and physical strength to string together seven high quality matches.

"That's the question everybody's been asking," former world number one and 18-time Grand Slam champion turned ESPN analyst Chris Evert said on a call with reporters.

The combination of a fast surface that favours power hitters like Williams and a field in which rivals such as Ash Barty and Simona Halep are competing after injury plus Naomi Osaka missing for personal reasons, opens the door for Williams.

"This is to me her golden opportunity," Evert said.

"If there was ever a year that has looked good in the last few years, if there ever was a Grand Slam she is capable, more than capable, of winning... it would be this year's Wimbledon."

Other threats to Williams apart from top seed Barty and defending champion Halep, including Bianca Andreescu, Aryna Sabalenka, Barbora Krejcikova and Karolina Pliskova, have yet to establish themselves as great grass court players, Evert added.

"(But) there's always two sides to any coin. This new generation is fearless and confident."

Fearless and confident is an apt description of 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who took Wimbledon by storm in 2019 when she beat former champion Venus Williams en route to the fourth round, where she bowed out to eventual title winner Halep.

Gauff made the French Open quarter-finals this month and, even though her Wimbledon preparations suffered a blip when she lost to Anastasija Sevastova in a warm-up event on Wednesday, she is poised to take the next step in her young career.

"She has developed her skill set to another level during the clay court season," Evert said.

"She got better and better with each tournament. I think if her serve is on, she could very well get to the second week, even make a quarter or a semi, very possible at Wimbledon."

Former world number one John McEnroe echoed Evert's view.

"I think she could potentially absolutely get to late in the event, semis, finals. It's conceivable if things go well."

The Wimbledon main draw matches begin Monday.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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