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Who Will Take Serena’s Wimbledon Crown?

First, let’s be happy for Serena Williams that she’s pregnant, and marvel at how she won the Australian Open while adapting to that pregnancy.

Then, let’s not be too sad that the greatest female tennis player of them all won’t be strutting her stuff at Wimbledon this summer. She’ll surely be back in a year or two, and what a welcome she’ll receive when the time comes.

Serena’s absence for Wimbledon 2017 shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a negative, because it has blown the women’s singles tournament wide open. Indeed, this could be the most exciting Wimbledon we’ve seen for years!

Who will step up to win the most important title in tennis? There are three particularly gripping scenarios that would please the sporting romantics…but we’ll keep you in suspense for a moment and leave those for later.

Angelique Kerber, world number one and last year’s beaten finalist, must really fancy her chances now. She did everything right last year – except maybe believe in herself enough against Serena.

But there are other genuine pretenders to the crown. Karolina Pliskova has been in cracking form and could take her rapidly improving game onto grass with increasing confidence.

Caroline Wozniacki, the former world number one, is back competing with a winning edge – and won’t go to Wimbledon with any doubts about her capabilities this time around.

The ever-popular Eugenie Bouchard reached the Wimbledon final in 2014, as did Garbine Muguruza in 2015. They have been somewhat erratic since. But both young women must know they are capable of tasting glory on Centre Court without Serena in the mix.

Pocket rocket Dominika Cibulkova is putting together some impressive form these days. And on her day that explosive energy of hers is simply unplayable.

Agnieszka Radwanska has threatened to win Wimbledon before – and this could be her year at last, with her legions of Polish fans hoping for great things.

Coco Wandeweghe, the pugnacious American, has shown signs in the last year that she might be able to go all the way, if she can get on another roll and maintain the momentum for long enough this time.

Then we should consider the controversial Maria Sharapova. Will she find a way not only to return to Wimbledon action, but then to win the title itself, to repeat her feat of 2004 at long last?

After her drugs ban, some would inevitably be displeased if that happened. Others – her many millions of fans among them – would be thrilled at her bouncebackability and celebrate even more.

But for sheer sporting romance, the following three scenarios would take some beating. How about Petra Kvitova returns from being stabbed during that horrific home invasion to make it a hat-trick of Wimbledon crowns?

That would be amazing, though in truth the tournament could come a little soon for Kvitova to make such a massive impact this time around.

What about a home win for Johanna Konta? That would leave the British element among the Wimbledon crowds in raptures, judging by their ecstatic reaction to Andy Murray’s success last year.

And make no mistake, Konta is a genuine Grand Slam contender these days. She will relish the challenge, as long as she can handle the pressure when it actually comes to the intensity and expectation of Wimbledon fortnight.

But the most romantic and popular victory of all, in the women’s singles at Wimbledon 2017, would surely be if Serena’s sister Venus could take the crown again at last.

Impossible? Not so. Remember, it was Venus on the other side of the net when Serena took the Australian Open earlier this year. And look who beat world number one Kerber in Miami! Venus still has the weaponry to pull off an almighty shock.

She certainly knows what it takes to win Wimbledon, as well. Venus has won it five times before, and though the last occasion was nine years ago, she won’t have forgotten.

Some will say that time is now working against Venus. She will be 37 by the time Wimbledon 2017 begins, remember.

Yet the conditions in Australia were arguably more gruelling than she will find in England this summer…and she still so nearly won the Aussie Open.

Family pride will be at stake, and Venus will be super-motivated. She will have tremendous backing from Wimbledon tennis fans of all nationalities. The atmosphere will be incredible for her.

Wouldn’t it be great if she could pull it off? But that’s the thing about Wimbledon 2017. Everyone can expect to go into the tournament feeling that little bit more confident…because Serena is expecting.