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Wimbledon draw questions: Serena Williams' chances to win are ... anyone's guess

Serena Williams played well at the French Open before pulling out with an injury. AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File

The tournament simply known as "The Championships" is almost upon us, and the draw is baked. The singles brackets on the whole seem well-balanced. But there are still some pressing questions. Here they are:

Let's get to it: Can Serena Williams win the title?

That blunt question is the only way to put it, the only way she's interested in having it put. Here's the rub: The question has been asked three times since she returned in March from giving birth last September, and the answer has been no. Any illusions about an easy, triumphant return have been shattered.

Given this is Serena, that's excellent motivation for her to do well on her best surface, at the tournament she's won seven times. She had a victory for mothers everywhere by locking down a No. 25 seed despite her ranking of No. 183. Her quarter of the draw, led by No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 5 Elina Svitolina, might look tractable. But potential back-to-back matches starting in the third round against Svitolina and dangerous Magdalena Rybarikova are a tough assignment.

So before we start making more Serena predictions, let's see how the first few rounds go.

Which American man has the best shot at going deep?

He played in the what might be the most famous match of all time. It's been eight years since John Isner's three-day, 70-68 in-the-fifth, first-round marathon victory over Nicolas Mahut. Isner has served more than 10,000 aces in his career and bushels of them on the serve-friendly Wimbledon grass. Yet he inexplicably hasn't ever made it as far as the round of 16.

But Isner, currently ranked No. 10, is having a career year and playing persuasive, relaxed tennis. He could have the tournament that everyone always expected of him. His first-round opponent is 28-year-old, No. 134-ranked Yannick Maden of Germany, which seems like a slam dunk for the 6-foot-10 Isner.

All in all, Isner does not have a terrible draw. He is in the same quarter as Grigor Dimitrov and Stan Wawrinka, but one of them will be knocked out in the first round, as they face each other in an exciting opening-round clash.

Isner could potentially meet reigning Queen's Club champ and last year's Wimbledon runner-up Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals and Roger Federer in the semis.

Will the women's Wimbledon draw be as unpredictable as the French Open?

Perhaps not. While there's always a chance someone could come out of the woodwork to demonstrate her grass-court skills, the turf -- and Wimbledon in particular -- tends to like favorites.

The Williams sisters get their game on for Wimbledon. So does Petra Kvitova, a quiet two-time champion. Stalwarts like defending champion Garbine Muguruza, new French Open champ and top seed Simona Halep and perennially tough Maria Sharapova also loom.

There aren't too many outsiders who seem destined to go far. No. 16 CoCo Vandeweghe has a powerful game and a favorable draw. She is in the same quarter as Wozniacki.

What are the chances Roger Federer will defend successfully?

A lot was made of Federer's struggles last week at Halle, where he survived match points in one encounter and ultimately lost the final to Croatia's Borna Coric. The loss snapped Federer's 20-match win streak at Halle. Federer's draw is reasonable, but he might get a rematch with Coric in the fourth round. His potential semifinal opponents include No. 3 Cilic or No. 5 Dimitrov.

Who are the most likely first-time Wimbledon winners, male and female?

The most successful players at Wimbledon are first and foremost great athletes.

So look for Sloane Stephens to continue the surge that has lifted her into the top five. She's seeded No. 4, but her eighth of the draw features some heavy hitters (No. 7 Karolina Pliskova, No. 13 Julia Goerges). The only caveat: Stephens decided to skip all tuneup events after that terrific French Open.

On the men's side, call it a toss-up between No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev and No. 16 Nick Kyrgios, who's been burning up the turf with his serve and blazing groundstrokes. Kyrgios has the trickier opener in No. 91 Denis Istomin, but if he and Zverev both survive to the fourth round, they'll meet. Reserve your seat.

Is Novak Djokovic a legitimate threat?

Making the final at Queen's Club was a big step in the right direction. There were flashes of the familiar old "elastic man" Djokovic throughout that close loss to Cilic, as well as some superb shot-making by the Serbian former No. 1.

The problem for Djokovic remains confidence. He still tends to blink first in key moments. He has some breathing room, with No. 56 Tennys Sandgren for an opener, but the Serb is in the same quarter as No. 7 Dominic Thiem, Zverev and Kyrgios.

Who are the most underrated players in either draw?

Cilic, the No. 3 seed, doesn't appear to get the pundits or fans stoked, yet he's been in two Grand Slam finals in less than a year, and he put on formidable demonstration of power tennis in winning a week ago at Queen's. Last year's runner-up starts against Yoshihito Nishioka, but Cilic has little to worry about until a potential fourth-round meeting with Milos Raonic, who's fresh and a nightmare on grass.

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Rybarikova is a 5-foot-11 Slovak with tremendous variety, including slice and sidespin and a dangerous serve. She loves the grass, and it loves her game. The No. 19 seed was out through all of 2016 with injuries, falling as low as No. 453. But by July of last year she was belting her way to the Wimbledon semifinals. Just weeks ago, she lost the Birmingham final to Kvitova.

Does Andy Murray have any kind of shot?

Murray's comeback has been star-crossed. In the paltry three matches he's had since missing almost a full year with a bum hip, he's had to play Kyrgios, Wawrinka (in a battle of former Grand Slam event winners who entered Eastbourne as wild cards) and rising British star Kyle Edmund, who will be seeded at Wimbledon while Murray is not. Murray remains in disfavor with the draw gods. He drew dangerous Benoit Paire in his opener. If Murray survives to the third round, he might face a very tough No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro.

What does Rafael Nadal need to do to turn his luck around at Wimbledon?

At this point, nothing. The "King of Clay" figured out the adjustments he needed to make to grass a long time ago. Some critics lay blame on his recent poor record on Nadal's decision to skip the tuneup events. But there's nothing the No. 2 seed can do about that now, having gone the same route this year.

The main thing Nadal needs is a draw without an early matchup against one of those journeymen who can exploit his clay-bred game with grass-court juju. Nadal got one in the dogged 33-year-old Israeli Dudi Sela. But Mischa Zverev, exactly the kind of guy who can torment Nadal on grass, awaits in Round 2. Same old, same old.

Who are the most vulnerable ATP/WTA contenders?

Dimitrov clings to his No. 6 ranking, but he's having a frustrating year. He won just one match at Queen's before he was crushed by Djokovic. Wawrinka is a wild card still coming back from knee surgery, but he's a multiple-time Grand Slam champ who could jump-start his comeback by taking Dimitrov down in the opener.

Wozniacki is seeded No. 2, and while she's having a good week at Eastbourne, she's been beaten in the first round at Wimbledon two of the past three years. Hard-hitting Varvara Lepchenko could make it three years out of four.