London: Serena Williams has set her sights on erasing the bitter taste of a disappointing 2014 campaign by re-establishing her supremacy at Wimbledon.
Williams heads to the All England Club mired in something of a slump following earlier than expected exits from both the Australian and French Opens.
Serena Williams. Pic/ AFP
After suffering a shock fourth round loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon 12 months ago, Williams embarked on an extraordinary run that saw her finish 2013 by winning 32 of her 33 matches, a sequence that brought her a 17th Grand Slam title at the US Open.
Since then, she has lost her momentum and although she has won titles in Brisbane, Miami and Rome, she has also suffered underwhelming losses to the likes of Petra Kvitova, Jana Cepelova, Ana Ivanovic and Alize Cornet.
Serena's struggles have prompted some to suggest she is finally in decline at age 32.
But those chastening defeats have only strengthened her desire to make amends in south-west London and few would bet against the ferociously competitive American adding a sixth Wimbledon singles title to her glittering CV by the time the women's tournament comes to a conclusion on July 5.
She starts her 15th appearance at the grasscourt Grand Slam as the world number one and top seed, and should she move one title ahead of her sister and fellow five-time Wimbledon winner Venus, Serena might well label the defeat against Garbine Muguruza at Roland Garros as the turning point.
That second-round exit was a hammer blow to Serena, who lives in Paris for part of the year and works with French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, and, before heading home to Miami, she vowed to step up her practice in a bid to avoid a repeat at Wimbledon, which gets underway on Monday.
"I'm going to go home and work five times as hard to make sure I never lose again," she said.
"If I couldn't play better I would be even more disappointed. But I know I can, so I know I have something to look forward to."
- 10 years on for Sharapova -
With Marion Bartoli now retired following her maiden Grand Slam triumph at Wimbledon 12 months ago, this will be the first time since Steffi Graf in 1997 that the reigning women's champion hasn't returned to defend her crown.
In Bartoli's absence, it is the fired-up Serena who most expect to carry off the Venus Rosewater dish awarded to the female champion and the 29-year-old Frenchwoman agrees with that verdict.
"Grass is a very specific surface and you have to have some experience on that," Bartoli said.
"I very highly favour Serena for it. Not only as she has won so many times but it is a surface that suits her game so beautifully.
"When you saw her winning at the Olympic Games, the way she played, the way she beat everyone.
"She destroyed Maria Sharapova in the final and I don't think all those young players will be able to challenge her."
Sharapova, fresh from winning the French Open for the second time, is seen as the biggest threat to Serena.
But the Russian, who is seeded five, has lost her last 15 matches against Williams, and even the memory of her famous Wimbledon final win over the American as a teenager 10 years ago may not be enough to slay those demons.
Other potential contenders include China's Li Na, who started the year in fine style by winning the Australian Open, although the 32-year-old second seed has never been past the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
Romania's Simona Halep, who has won more titles in the last 12 months than any woman other than Serena, is the third seed after an impressive surge up the rankings capped by her run to the French Open final.
Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, beaten by Serena in the 2012 Wimbledon final, is seeded fourth, while former world number one Ivanovic looks capable of challenging after winning on grass in Birmingham last week.