Serena Williams finds herself under siege from revitalised rivals and an army of doubters as the defending champion starts her bid for a seventh Wimbledon title and a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam crown.
Since she walked off Wimbledon’s Centre Court cradling the Venus Rosewater Dish awarded to the women’s champion nearly 12 months ago, Williams has found herself engaged in a losing battle with the history books.
That Wimbledon final victory over Garbine Muguruza meant Williams had won all three of the year’s major titles, putting her within touching distance of becoming the first woman to secure a calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988.
But Williams’ historic bid came to stunning end in the US Open semi-finals when she was beaten by 300-1 outsider Roberta Vinci.
In the aftermath of that chastening September day in New York, Williams has appeared a more vulnerable figure.
For so long, Williams’ power game and competitive instincts intimidated opponents into submission, but this year she has won only one of her five tournaments, in Rome in May, while enduring a pair of shock defeats in the Australian and French Open finals.
There is a growing sense the emotional scars from the US Open haven’t fully healed for Williams and Germany’s Angelique Kerber took advantage to shock her in Melbourne in January, while Spain’s Muguruza avenged her Wimbledon loss by beating Serena in Paris earlier this month.
Falling at the final hurdle twice this year has left Williams still stuck on 21 Grand Slam titles one short of Graf’s Open era record of 22 and three behind the all-time record of 24 set by Margaret Court ahead of Wimbledon, which gets underway on Monday.