By Ravi Ubha
WIMBLEDON, England -- Analyzing the women's draw at Wimbledon for the WTA's Web site last week, I picked Serena Williams to win. Over at ESPN, six out of seven tennis analysts (not including Steve Weissman) picked Serena Williams to win. And at tennis.com, three of four writers picked Serena Williams to win.
If you've lost count -- and we understand if you did -- that's 9 of 11.
She was almost an automatic, a la Roger Federer in his golden years, except for Peter Bodo and Brad Gilbert, who both picked Maria Sharapova.
But why the landslide?
I'm beginning to wonder why I opted for Serena, and we're only in the second round of this year's fortnight.
Williams, though, lost in the second round of the French Open and has only gotten past the fourth round once in her previous four majors. It was at the U.S. Open, where home soil ensures an added boost from the biggest crowd in tennis at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
At this stage in her career, this constitutes a slump. A major one, as it were. Being No. 1 and claiming titles in Beijing, at the year-end championships, Brisbane, Miami and Rome since Flushing Meadows last summer is nice, but Williams has insisted her primary motivation is the Grand Slams.
It has been for a while. Remember Wimbledon 2009, when Williams took a shot at then No. 1 Dinara Safina after collecting the title with this quote: "I see myself as No. 2. That's where I am. I think Dinara did a great job to get to No. 1. She won Rome and Madrid."
Williams and the press corps laughed. (Ok, I laughed, too. Her delivery and demeanor made it seriously funny.)
There's no laughing now for Williams, which would explain her brief press conference -- even shorter than usual, that is -- over the weekend.
Her replies were slightly more extended following her first-round win Tuesday, yet only mostly when discussing subjects apart from her own game, such as the World Cup, NBA and appearing in a video for headphone company Beats by Dre.
She did say that, "whenever I slip, I try to get up. That really, really motivates me."
Losing to Virginie Razzano at the French Open -- the sight of Williams appearing to sob in her chair prior to the third set in 2012 was as unexpected as Federer demolishing his racket in Miami in 2009 -- Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon 12 months ago and Garbine Muguruza at the French Open last month is prone to making Williams far from cheery.
Federer, mind you, has to contend with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, a jump in depth from Williams' closest rivals of Sharapova, Li Na and Simona Halep.
"Didn't we all pick Serena to win at the French, too?" asked Patrick McEnroe, one of those analysts at ESPN. (Note: The answer was, among ESPN personnel, yes.)
Why go with Serena at Wimbledon, Patrick?
"I'll give you one simple answer," added the USTA's general manager of player development. "It's because she's still Serena. I don't think it's going to change just yet. When she plays her A-game, she's still the best. On grass her serve is amazing."
Is she vulnerable? Absolutely. I think one of the reasons she's a little more vulnerable now is because she actually wants it so much more. She probably realizes she's running out of time."
The view of McEnroe's fellow ESPN analyst, Darren Cahill?
"I picked her because she has the best serve in the women's game," said Cahill. "She's No. 1 in the world. She's shown us that she normally rises to the occasion at Wimbledon.
"It's going to take a monster performance for someone to beat her, and for her to lose, a lot of things have to happen."
They include, said Cahill, Williams being off her game, particularly the serve, and the player across the net has to play the match "of their life."
He did acknowledge that, however, there's a "bit of a vulnerable feeling that makes it interesting."
When Williams last year lost to Lisicki, a German with a serve almost as impressive as her own, the feeling was that Williams suffered from fatigue.
It was an entirely plausible explanation, given that she expended an overflow of energy to banish memories of the historic defeat to Razzano -- Williams lost in the first round of a major for the only time in her career -- and ultimately land a first French Open title in 11 years.
A back injury contributed to a loss to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of this year's Australian Open -- yet due to her age, physical setbacks now shouldn't be treated as isolated nuisances. They could be here to stay.
If Williams doesn't win this year, fatigue can't be cited as a factor: She has had about a month to prepare for Wimbledon, courtesy of the flat-hitting Muguruza.
The aura of invincibility would take a significant, maybe terminal, hit.
Williams doesn't figure to have much trouble in her second-round encounter Thursday against Chanelle Scheepers, even if the South African leads the women's tour in return games won in 2014.
But Williams was dropped into the toughest quarter of the draw, which most notably features Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard. Bouchard, the 20-year-old Canadian, shares Sharapova's immense hunger and will to win.
You can just picture it now, commentators uttering "changing of the guard" or "passing of the torch" if Bouchard -- twice a semifinalist at majors in 2014 -- meets, and topples, Williams in the fourth round.
If it's Sharapova vs. Williams in the quarterfinals, carrying a 10-year, head-to-head losing streak won't scare the Russian (though she'd obviously prefer Bouchard to prevail).
Is all this to say Williams won't win Wimbledon and again miss out on tying Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert in majors? I'm not going that far.
As McEnroe and Cahill suggested, one stroke -- the serve -- can go a long way towards Williams winning here for a sixth time.
But this sure thing sure isn't.
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London-based Ravi Ubha's work has appeared on ESPN.com and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.