Serena Williams, the last American woman left standing at Wimbledon, eked out a surprisingly tough 6-7 (5), 6-2, 9-7 win earlier today to advance to the fourth round. Although Williams didn’t look her best in beating Jie Zheng, it’s the level of the opposition ahead that should really worry her many fans.
Even Williams' fourth-round foe, unseeded Yaroslava Shvedova, may prove to be a substantial obstacle after posting a golden set (winning every point) in her 6-0, 6-4 third-round victory. Irrespective of how well Shvedova plays against her, though, the sixth-seeded Williams faces the toughest road to the title of any remaining contender.
The prohibitive likelihood is that Williams’ quarterfinal foe will be Petra Kvitova, the defending Wimbledon champ. No. 4 seed Kvitova hasn’t even remotely been tested yet—the match will be the first against a seeded opponent for either player in this tourney—and the hard-serving southpaw will have a better-than-even chance to stop Serena short of the semifinals.
Even if Williams does get past Kvitova, she’ll probably have to defeat each of the top two seeds to take home the championship. Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova haven’t had the greatest success at Wimbledon for their careers, but Azarenka made the semis last year and Sharapova does have a title to her credit (from 2004).
If the question were simply, “Can Serena beat any one of these opponents,” the answer would be a resounding “yes.” The chances of her playing well enough to take down all three younger foes—even when she herself is just two years removed from her last Wimbledon title—are not nearly so promising.
In a sport that favors youth as strongly as women’s tennis, Williams has already defied the odds by staying at the top of the sport at age 31. The four-time Wimbledon champ won’t defy them again by getting through three of the top four players in the world rankings in the space of next week.