| By David Drucker

This past June, we got our first glimpse of Serena Williams in nearly a year. Serena, who had been sidelined by a series of unfortunate injuries and health issues, made her triumphant return to the grass courts of Wimbledon where she made it to the fourth round before falling to Marion Bartoli of France. In the eyes of some, Serena was actually a favorite to win Wimbledon though she hadn’t played in almost a full year. Serena, who has six matches under her belt since returning, is looking to grind through the summer in hopes of making a big splash at this year's U.S. Open.

Kicking off her summer, Serena played for her World TeamTennis club, the Washington Kastles twice last week. One of those performances happened to be in front of First Lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters, Malia and Sasha. Williams is expected to play for the Kastles July 19 in Albany, N.Y. at the SEFCU Arena at the University of Albany and July 20 at Sportime Stadium at Randall's Island against the New York Sportimes.

You call the participation in World TeamTennis a warm-up for Serena if you will, but thereafter, is where the real grind begins. According to the WTA, Serena will be returning to the Bank of the West Classic tournament, which will be played July 25-July 31 in Stanford, Calif. After that, Serena will head north of the border to Toronto for the Rogers Cup, played Aug. 8-14. It will be Serena’s first Masters Series event since her appearance in Madrid in May of 2010. Shortly after, Serena is expected to play at the Western and Southern Open tournament in Cincinnati according to tournament officials.

Should Serena be able to survive this summer schedule, she should be more than prepared for the rigors and competition she will face at the 2011 U.S. Open. Serena is currently ranked 172nd in the world due to her long layoff. My pick is for her to win in Cincinnati, and depending on her form after the U.S. series concludes, she’ll most likely be my favorite to win the U.S. Open.