When healthy, there is no more dominant figure in professional tennis than Serena Williams. Her powerful serve and groundstrokes are complimented by top-class (though sometimes nervy) volleys and a strong defensive game.
But with an injury to her foot and a hematoma and pulmonary embolism, Serena fell all the way to No. 175 in the world.
With a win at the Bank of the West Classic to end July, Williams jumped to No. 79, but it's been almost two years since Serena has won a Grand Slam tournament.
I think that Serena will win the 2011 U.S. Open, but I wouldn't bet much on it. There's a lot of variables and, for once in women's tennis, quite a bit of competition.
Serena will be up against it at Flushing Meadows this year, battling herself, opponents old and new, and even the rowdy New York City crowd.
With Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva all ranked within the top five, Serena will have her hands full as she approaches the later rounds. Though Williams has good records against all three, she's lost recently to Clijsters and Zvonareva, while Sharapova has been playing like a Grand Slam champion as of late.
It'll be interesting to see if Serena still has what it takes to bring down the players who know her game so well.
Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 1 player in the world and my future wife, has yet to win a Grand Slam title, and many are labeling her a bust along the lines of Dinara Safina. I'm not ready to go there yet, as she's younger than me.
Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova will offer Serena tough matches if given the opportunity. Both are young and without much experience against Williams. Kvitova's recent success at Wimbledon should give her added confidence against the hard-hitting American.
At Wimbledon, Serena Williams looked like an old woman in comparison to Marion Bartoli, who hopped and skipped her way around the court like a 12-year-old. Serena looked tired, and it was only four matches into the tournament.
Well, in order to win a Grand Slam, she'll need to have the energy to win seven in a row.
Conditioning will always be an issue for Serena, who carries around a little bit more weight than most women's players.
Remember that time Serena Williams, noted giant, threatened a diminutive line judge? Of course you do, but there's a refresher anyway.
New Yorkers can hold a grudge, and no doubt they didn't take too kindly to Serena threatening someone and robbing them of entertainment.
If the crowd finds an underdog for whom to root, it could get into Serena's head. I've never considered her the most headstrong player, and with a home crowd turning against her, maybe this time she'll actually shove a ball down someone's throat.