Serena Williams loses first-round match at Wimbledon to Harmony Tan

LONDON – Serena Williams, playing her first competitive singles game in 364 days, suffered another devastating one with a 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) loss to Harmony Tan on Tuesday that lasted at Wimbledon early elimination more than three hours and a 10-point tiebreak in the third set to decide.

“Today I gave everything I could do, you know, today,” a dejected Williams told a packed room of reporters after the game. “Maybe I could have given more tomorrow. Maybe I could have given more a week ago. But today was what I could do.

“At some point you have to accept it. And that’s all I can do. I can’t change the time or anything, so that’s all I could do on that particular day.”

Playing Tan – who is ranked 115th and making her debut in the main draw at the tournament – to an enthusiastic crowd on Center Court, Williams simultaneously displayed signs of rust alongside glimpses of her signature brilliance.

When it was over, both players got a standing ovation from the stands. Williams, 40, the owner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, waved several times as she left the court and whirled around before disappearing through the exit. There has been much speculation about William’s retirement and she didn’t do much to dispel such speculation after Tuesday’s game, providing vague answers to several questions about her future.

“That’s a question I can’t answer,” Williams said after the defeat. “I dont know. I have a feeling, you know, I don’t know. Who knows? Who knows where I’ll show up.”

Williams had not played competitively in singles since she was forced to withdraw from her first-round match at the All England Club in 2021 after it was later revealed to have a torn hamstring. While she originally hoped to return to the US Open in time last year, the recovery has taken much longer than expected and she took a break to give herself time to heal.

But she couldn’t escape the lingering disappointment of her Wimbledon 2021 exit.

“It was a lot of motivation to be honest,” Williams said before this tournament got underway. “I’ve always had something on my mind since the end of the game, so it was a huge motivation for that.”

She decided in the spring to return to the All England Club after a tumultuous year of recovery and off-court interests and pursuits. She began her competitive comeback in doubles at Eastbourne last week alongside Ons Jabeur to much fanfare. The two reached the semifinals before being forced to retire for Jabeur with a knee injury, but Williams still believed she had gained valuable playing experience.

Still, it took Williams the first few games of Tuesday’s game against Tan to regain form and her early game was riddled with errors.

“I had a few chances to win that first set,” Williams said. “You know, [it] didn’t work out, so… yeah, it was just, yeah, different, very different for me.

But like she’s done countless times in her career, Williams fought back with a dominant performance in the second set, including winning a marathon 30-second game.

She seemed to be in control in the third, leading 3-1, but Tan came back and won the next three games. From there it was a fight where the crowd seemed to live and breathe with every point and both players responded emphatically throughout.

It reached a climax when Williams saved the match point 5-6 to eventually force a crucial tie break.

In the 1:10 tie-break, Williams took a 4-0 lead. In the final moments, however, she slipped and Tan dominated.

“I think the last few points were where I really suffered,” said Williams, who lost 16 of 24 rallies in the match, which lasted nine shots or more. “But yeah, I feel like just in those key points, mentally, winning some of those points is always something you have to have, you kind of need. I did pretty well at maybe one or two, but obviously not enough.”

If this is the end for Williams, it will mark the conclusion of one of the sport’s greatest careers. With 23 major titles, including seven at the All England Club, Williams has the most titles of all time in the Open Era. Since returning from childbirth in 2018, she has attempted to tie Margaret Court’s long-standing record of 24, the highest in history. Since then, Williams has played in four finals in those 14 Majors, including Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019, but has come up short each time.

However, Williams hasn’t completely ruled out an appearance at the US Open later this summer.

“When you’re at home, especially in New York, and at the US Open, to be the first place where I’ve won a Grand Slam is always very special,” Williams said. “Your first time is always special.

“There’s definitely a lot of motivation to get better and play at home.”

Tan’s future is a little clearer. The 24-year-old Frenchwoman now has a chance to face number 32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in her third round of 64 in a Grand Slam on Thursday. But Tan didn’t seem ready to think about it after Tuesday’s win.

“It’s a dream because I used to watch Serena on TV when I was young,” Tan said. “My coach, Nathalie Tauziat, played against them 20 years ago.

“She’s a legend. I mean she’s won 23 Grand Slams. When you play against them, I was scared. I mean I was scared when I was on the pitch but really happy to be there.”

https://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/34163043/serena-williams-loses-first-round-match-wimbledon-harmony-tan Serena Williams loses first-round match at Wimbledon to Harmony Tan

Emma Bowman

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