Oh, Serena. You are never one to leave us without a little drama. And in the past two days, you've candidly admitted that tennis is not your thing, then went down with an ankle injury in Brisbane on Wednesday morning. (Karma, anyone?)
So where does that leave her heading into the Australian Open and the rest of 2012? Our experts weigh in:
If she's healthy and motivated, can anyone stop Serena Williams on a consistent basis?
Greg Garber: Like Roger Federer, Serena showed signs of weakness as she approached 30 years old. Now a setback in Brisbane raises more questions. How many folks really thought -- despite her comeback from various ailments -- she would lose to Samantha Stosur in the U.S. Open final? In fact, Serena lost to her twice inside a month. Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka no doubt took notes, and Kim Clijsters, for her part, beat her in the zany 2009 U.S. Open final -- incredibly, the only time they've played in nine years. So, yes, Serena has lost a step to the field, but she's still Serena. Will she be ready for Australia? Maybe. Maybe not. But her presence makes for an intriguing 2012.
Kamakshi Tandon: A healthy and motivated Kim Clijsters, perhaps, or a maturing Petra Kvitova? In other words, hardly anyone, maybe no one. Only Serena's health and frame of mind can slow her down. At the same time, does that matter? There are a lot of talented players around who could stop her when they're having a good day, so dominance shouldn't be assumed -- even if Serena is fit and motivated. And frankly, a healthy and motivated Serena is a rare sight (as we just saw in an Aussie warm-up event). She basically admitted she skipped last fall because she felt like it and already was talking about playing a limited schedule this year before her injury.
Ravi Ubha: "If she's healthy and motivated." Isn't that always the million-dollar question as it relates to Serena? Well, if indeed she's fully focused and bounces back from her injury scare (and maintains her health), only two players can consistently challenge her: Petra Kvitova and Kim Clijsters. Then again, Clijsters has to be injury-free and fully focused herself, and we all know that's not always the case. And don't forget, a notch below Kvitova and Clijsters lies Victoria Azarenka.
Matt Wilansky: If she's healthy, huh? Not exactly an auspicious beginning to what we thought could be an awesome year. Let's say her latest setback in Brisbane is temporary and all is well in the land of Serena: Then the answer is no. No one can stop her on a consistent basis -- except Serena herself. She made it abundantly clear that although tennis is her job, it's not enjoyable. And if she's not fully committed to the court, we'll see a few upsets. This doesn't mean she won't string together a few tournament wins and a major or two, but ancillary interests always have dictated how often and, to an extent, how well she plays.
What do you expect from Serena in 2012, considering her ambivalence toward the game?
Garber: Watching her fight through those matches last year in Stanford, Toronto and New York, you got the idea that Serena still has the will to win -- even if her body hasn't always cooperated in recent years. Since it's an Olympic year and she and sister Venus are committed to playing doubles, I think Serena will summon one more big push to add to her 13 Grand Slam singles titles. Depending on how much Kim Clijsters has left, I can see her winning one or even two majors.
Tandon: A major effect at the majors and not much else. But she'll be a big threat to win every Slam she's ready for.
Ubha: "I stayed fit in the offseason. Usually I don't stay so fit, as we all know." That's what Serena said in Brisbane this week, and it came back to haunt her. Now, after she suffered an ankle injury, we might not see her in Oz. This after she admitted she doesn't love tennis. We thought Serena's motivation was high after she missed most of last year, and it might be, but now we'll have to wait and see how she recovers. If she's healthy, I expect her to bag two majors in 2012.
Wilansky: Not much outside of the majors and a handful of Tier I events. Clearly tennis is a burden, so why would she play when the spotlight isn't squarely on her? And that's a shame, considering she has maybe two or three good years left. But whether she's fit or battered, we'll be lucky if Serena plays in 10 events this season.
Fill in the blank: Serena Williams is most likely to win which Grand Slam in 2012?
Garber: She's been very solid in Australia, winning four of the past seven, but with the gradual decline of sister Venus, I think Wimbledon (despite the emergence of Petra Kvitova) represents her best bet. She reached three straight finals from 2008 to 2010 before falling to Marion Bartoli in the fourth round a year ago -- when she clearly wasn't quite ready for that level of play. This year, she'll be prepared.
Tandon: Wimbledon. It's where her serve is the most potent, and fewer players are comfortable on the surface, so she faces fewer serious challenges than on hard courts.
Ubha: Wimbledon. Williams' devastating serve is potent on any surface, including clay, but it's most effective on grass. She can manufacture free points via the serve at Wimbledon unlike at any other major. That said, a healthy Serena will be tough to stop at the Australian Open (if she recovers) and U.S. Open. Let's see whether she'll avoid chatting with the chair umpires/linespeople at Flushing Meadows.
Wilansky: If not for her Brisbane boo-boo, I'd be inclined to go with Australia, where Serena has won two of the past three years. But as it stands, her best shot of winning Slam No. 14 will come at the lush grounds of SW19. A handful of players could slash their way through the tournament (Petra Kvitova the most notable), but Serena feels comfortable on grass, whereas most of the other top-tier players don't. The slick Wimbledon surface only makes her already prodigious game that much bigger.