WIMBLEDON, England: The injuries and intrigue, passion for fashion, disdain for the tennis grind and insistence on go-for-broke strokes — all in the context of a friendly sibling rivalry — make even Mom reluctant to predict what the Williams sisters might do next.
They'd love to win Wimbledon, and Venus and Serena Williams will be among the favorites when the tournament begins Monday. But both have been erratic this year, raising anew questions about their devotion to a sport they once dominated.
'They have a lot of things going on with their life," said their mother and coach, Oracene Price. "Sometimes you never know what's going on in their head, especially girls."
The sisters are coming off a rare double defeat at the French Open, where they were eliminated in the third round. It was only the second time they lost on the same day at a Grand Slam event, which should stoke their desire for a strong showing at Wimbledon.
"We always learn and get more determined after a loss," Venus said.
Grass often puts extra spring in their step. They've combined to win six of the past eight Wimbledon titles, and a return to the All England Club rejuvenated Venus' game last year, when she won the championship for the fourth time and became the tournament's lowest-ranked champion at No. 31.
On the surface, it's easy to explain the sisters' success at Wimbledon: Lawn tennis suits their big serves, slam-bang groundstrokes and willingness to charge the net.
In addition, they find inspiration in the tradition that accompanies their sport's oldest tournament.
"Wimbledon, I think, has been around for hundreds of years," Serena said. "It doesn't get better than that."
It has actually been around since 1884, when another family dominated: Maud Watson beat sister Lilian in the final.
More than a century later, the world's oldest and most tradition-bound tennis tournament is in transition. A retractable roof over Centre Court is still a year from completion, but an overhead cover for fans is back after ongoing construction left them with no protection last year. Capacity has increased to 15,000 from 13,800.
A new Court 2 is nearly finished, and the old one will be used this year for the last time. That's good news for such players as the Williams sisters, because Court 2 has long been nicknamed the "Graveyard of Champions."
There are plenty of candidates to derail the sisters' title hopes this year, including French Open winner Ana Ivanovic, 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova and 2006 winner Amelie Mauresmo.
Ivanovic will play her first tournament as the world's top-ranked player.
"Obviously now a lot of players will play their best tennis against me," the 20-year-old Ivanovic said. "Being No. 1 holds more pressure. But you're also a professional athlete, and if you want to achieve your goals, you have to learn how to handle the pressure and realize that pressure is also kind of a reward, because you put yourself in a position to do something memorable."
Venus Williams has reached the final in six of the past eight years, winning the title in 2000, '01, '05 and '07. She lost to her younger sister in the final in '02 and '03. Serena has eight major titles and Venus six, which makes them the leaders among active players on the women's tour.
But as always, there are questions about their focus and ability to stay healthy. Serena hasn't reached a Grand Slam final since winning the 2007 Australian Open; Venus hasn't reached a final of any kind since October.
They're usually less animated discussing tennis than talking about their latest design in tennis wear, or what they've been reading (Venus) or watching (Serena).
"Now I buy a lot of programs on iTunes," Serena reported during the French Open. "I just downloaded 'The Jeffersons' — you know, season five. I have a lot to watch."
Two days later, she shanked overheads, sprayed volleys and lost to Katarina Srebotnik. Mom conceded she was puzzled by the performance but expects Serena to "come out swinging" at Wimbledon.
"Usually when she gets hurt like that, she's letting nothing stop her," Price said. "Maybe it's a good thing."
The same could be true for Venus, who looked listless in her Roland Garros loss to Flavia Pennetta but has a history of early-round exits at Paris.
"Usually I'm extremely upset about the result, and then I work even harder," she said.
Recently retired Justine Henin is no longer a concern for the Williamses, but there are plenty of emerging youngsters to worry about. Last year the sisters were the oldest of the Wimbledon women's quarterfinalists, a group that included three teenagers.
Serena is 26, and Venus turned 28 on Tuesday. There's always speculation about how much longer they'll play, especially after performances like those at the French Open. Price said retirement's not on the horizon and predicted they won't quit at the same time.
"If I had to guess who would do it earlier: Serena," Price said. "She wants kids. She wants a family."
Another generation of Williamses? The family's domination at Wimbledon may be only beginning.