sport

Champion backing for Lisicki

Reigning women's champion Marion Bartoli believes last year's runner-up Sabine Lisicki can mount another title challenge at Wimbledon this year.

In place of the now-retired Bartoli, who quit tennis weeks after landing the title she always coveted, it will be Lisicki opening up play on Centre Court on Tuesday. It is tradition for the women's champion to have the honour, but hard-hitting German Lisicki takes that on instead as she plays Israel's Julia Glushko.

Tournament favourite Serena Williams launches her campaign on the principal show court later in the day with a first-round match against Georgia-born American Anna Tatishvili, while French Open winner Maria Sharapova tackles Britain's Samantha Murray on Court One.

While the buzz surrounds Williams and Sharapova, who could go head to head in the quarter-finals, Bartoli believes it would be wrong to write off Lisicki's chances.

"Do I think she's going to go a step further this year? Well, Sabine really loves Wimbledon. Obviously she did so well not only last year but the years before. She is kind of able to really come in here and be a total different player from what she is during the whole year," Frenchwoman Bartoli, who will be a Royal Box observer, said.

"I think it's going to depend on how she feels in the first two or three rounds and moving on into the second week.

"I'm sure if it's not this year, at least she will have another shot in being into the Wimbledon final."

Lisicki has had the most mediocre of seasons, while Williams has struggled in the grand slams, going out in the fourth round in Australia and quite startlingly in the second round at Roland Garros, taking just four games off Garbine Muguruza.

Yet ahead of facing Tatishvili, Williams said: "I'm really prepared and really excited to be here. I feel good."

Her sister and fellow five-time Wimbledon singles champion Venus Williams made a successful start on Monday, beating Spanish clay-courter Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-4 4-6 6-2 on Court Two.

For Venus, it was a first Wimbledon win since 2011, since when she has suffered a first-round knock-out and missed the 2013 championships with an injury.

The 34-year-old, seeded 30th, said: "I'm not really here to surprise anyone. No one is going to get behind you and pet you and say, 'It's okay, you can do it'. I have to do that for myself.

"I have nothing to prove, nothing to hide, nothing to lose. It's not going to go the way of 127 people in this draw. It's going to go the way of one person."

Li Na and Victoria Azarenka were among the other big names in the bottom half of the draw to reach the second round on Monday, but Australia's former US Open champion Samantha Stosur and the fast-rising American Sloane Stephens suffered painful defeats.