LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 28: Serena Williams of The United States waves to the crowd after losing against Harmony Tan of France during their Women’s Singles First Round Match on day two of The Championships Wimbledon 2022 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 28, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Serena Williams poured passion into her Wimbledon return.
World No. 115 Harmony Tan showed the power of perseverance to topple seven-time champion Williams 7-5, 1-6, 7-6(10) in a dramatic and wildly entertaining Centre Court thriller.
For the second straight year, the Wimbledon first round is the final stop for Williams.
“She’s beaten a legend.”
After three hours, 10 minutes, Harmony Tan beats Serena Williams in a first round epic#Wimbledon | #CentreCourt100 pic.twitter.com/IQst8AzXxv
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 28, 2022
Contesting her 21st career Wimbledon, Williams suffered just the third Grand Slam opening round exit of her career, two of them coming to Frenchwomen.
Fans gave the 23-time Grand Slam champion an extended ovation as she walked off court after a three hour, 11-minute epic with many in attendance wondering if this was Serena’s Wimbledon farewell.
It’s always a pleasure, @serenawilliams #Wimbledon | #CentreCourt100 pic.twitter.com/ALkCMy1sFD
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 28, 2022
If indeed this was the 40-year-old icon’s final appearance at The Championships, she went out with a true champion’s effort and commitment.
In her Wimbledon debut, Tan battled back from a break down in the first and last sets and roared back from love-4 down in the decisive tiebreaker denying Williams’ bid for a 99th career Wimbledon win.
Playing her first singles match since she hobbled off Centre Court retiring with a right hamstring injury against 100th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich last year, Williams fought fiercely, belted 30 more winners than Tan (55 to 25) and served for the match at 5-4 only to see Tan break back.
Twenty-four years ago, Tan’s coach, Nathalie Tauziat, played the Wimbledon final. Tonight, Tauziat stood and proudly applauded her charge who conceded she was so scared of facing the legendary Serena her main aim was avoid a blow-out.
“When I saw the draw I was really scared because it’s Serena Williams, she’s a legend,” Tan said. “I was like Oh my God how can I play if I can win one game or two games it was really good for me.”
Wearing gold earrings engraved with the word “loved,” Williams heard affectionate cheers from fans from the start. While she put herself in position to close every set—the former No. 1 led the first set 4-2 and was up a break at 3-1 in the decider—lack of match play, fatigue and a calm opponent who refused to yield and repeatedly dragged the American wild card forward with drop shots all caught up to Williams.
Tan wasn’t as vocal as a grunting Williams was. But when she read the direction of the former No. 1’s smash, darted to the spot and drilled a backhand pass down the line Tan erupted in a hearty roar holding for 4-all. That pass elicited applause from her famous opponent.
Williams answered with a love hold and a clenched fist to her support box that featured mom Oracene, older sister Venus Williams and husband Alexis Ohanian. The seven-time champion had the right idea moving forward to try to shorten points, but sometimes struggled when she got there. Williams, who won 37 of 58 trips to net, slipped a bit hitting a forehand drive volley that Tan alertly ducked to avoid a head shot. That shrewd move gave Tan double break point. The Paris-born Tan curled a crosscourt forehand breaking for 6-5 and exhorting fans to make noise.
Serving for the set, Tan saved a break point, drew Williams in and lashed a crosscourt forehand to snatch the 64-minute opening set. Williams was 15 for 28 at net in the opening set. Surprisingly, Tan won more first-serve points than Williams, who won 13 of 23 first-serve points and hit two aces in the set.
Tan took a bathroom break that spanned about six minutes and proved to be smart reset. Williams broke in the third game and held charging out to a 3-1 lead. Tan won 10 of the next 12 points breaking back on a bold backhand pass crosscourt, again drawing applause from Williams, to break back and level after six games.
Meeting the moment, Williams hit a backhand down the line then angled off an exquisite forehand drop shot squatting to the court and raising her arms at earning double break point in the ninth game.
Heart, hustle and pure grit helped Williams scrape out the break as she made successive sprinting gets to extend the point. Tan tightened, shoveling a drop volley into net. Williams raised her arms in a combination of exhilaration and relief seizing a 5-4 lead and unleashing mass celebration in her support box that saw sister Venus, arms raised herself, jumping up and down in the box with joy.
Credit Tan for turning elation to deflation.
France’s Harmony Tan celebrates winning against US player Serena Williams at the end of their women’s singles tennis match on the second day of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 28, 2022. – RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
Even champions in the GOAT stratosphere can come back to earth when serving for a Centre Court win. Williams didn’t play a poor game serving for the match, but wasn’t truly assertive either. A tentative Williams approach lacked angle and Tan belted a backhand winner breaking back with a shout.
Tan’s touch helped her draw Williams in on her terms on pivotal points. Dragging the 40-year-old forward with a forehand dropper, Tan slashed a backhand pass holding for 6-5 and placing pressure squarely on Williams’ shoulders.
How would Williams, playing her first singles match in a year and eager to eradicate the first two-match Wimbledon losing streak of her career, respond?
An errant backhand and netted forehand put seven-time champion in a 15-30 bind. Williams hit a backhand winner to draw even Facing match point, Williams kicked in a second serve and showed guts hammering a forehand drive volley to deny it. Williams worked through that tough hold to force the first to 10-point match tiebreaker.
From match point down, a recharged Williams won seven straight points going up 4-0 in the tiebreaker.
An unshakable Tan, who was over playing her drop shot at times, did not look fazed. Testing her opponent’s legs, Tan used the dropper-lob combination to ignite a comeback and level at 5-5.
A lunging Williams hit a stretch forehand volley to go up 6-5, but she was breathing deeply between points and looking more weary. Williams netted a meek forehand dropper and Tan hooked a forehand crosscourt for 8-6.
Trying to find the sideline, Williams missed an inside out forehand to face a second match point. This time, it was on Tan’s serve. Tan tied up Williams with a body serve drawing the error and thrusting her arms high as her box leaped up and down right with her.
A year ago, a hobbled Serena limped off Centre Court in tears. Tonight, Williams held her head and waved back to the Centre Court fans showering her with love—and hoping this wasn’t her final farewell.