Serena loses three-set thriller against Harmony Tan as Wimbledon comeback falls short

·3 min read

Serena Williams’ return to Wimbledon did not go as planned.

After a year away from competition, the 40-year-old with 23 Grand Slam titles lost her first-round match Tuesday against the world’s 115th-ranked player, Harmony Tan of France.

Facing an opponent who neutralized her power with an array of drop shots, slices and short angles, Williams’ rust and lack of match play was obvious as she struggled to grab control of points and was ultimately undone by mental and physical errors in pressure moments. Despite falling behind in the third set, Tan rallied and ultimately out-lasted Williams for a dramatic 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 victory after 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Attention will now turn to whether Williams intends to continue her comeback through the summer and the U.S. Open or if Tuesday was a goodbye for arguably the greatest women's tennis player in history.

Until two weeks ago, it was unclear whether Williams planned to play competitively anymore. She had barely been heard from in a tennis context since suffering a torn hamstring in last year’s Wimbledon opening round.

Did Serena Williams play her final match at Wimbledon? She returned to singles play a year after injuring her hamstring, but lost in three sets to Harmony Tan.
Did Serena Williams play her final match at Wimbledon? She returned to singles play a year after injuring her hamstring, but lost in three sets to Harmony Tan.

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When Williams announced that she had taken a wildcard entry into Wimbledon, it certainly provided a reason for her fans and the entire tennis world to get excited. But attempting to win a Grand Slam tournament without any official match play for an entire year was certainly ambitious — even for Williams.

Though her game looked solid in two doubles matches at a warm-up tournament last week in Eastbourne, England, singles is a much different animal when it comes to movement and court coverage.

Tan knew that and executed a game plan designed to test Williams’ legs and her feel. Far from a powerful hitter, Tan managed to draw 53 unforced errors from Williams, many of them on spinning balls close to the net that she had to hit either on the full run or while trying to change directions. Williams led 4-2 in the first set but mostly struggled to answer those questions from her opponent and never settled into a comfortable rhythm.

After Tan broke Williams’ vaunted serve for the third time at 5-5 and finished off the set, Wimbledon officials closed the roof due to darkness. After holding serve to open the second, Williams broke Tan in a 20-minute game that featured seven break points before she finally closed it out.

France's Harmony Tan celebrates after beating Serena Williams in a first-round match at Wimbledon.
France's Harmony Tan celebrates after beating Serena Williams in a first-round match at Wimbledon.

That seemed to give Williams a shot of energy and confidence, and she rode it all the way to a 3-1 lead in the deciding set. But Tan responded by retrieving the break of serve and then immediately held for a 4-3 lead, putting the pressure back on Williams. Though she kept brushing away trouble and ultimately broke again for a 5-4 lead, Williams’ lack of competition showed up again when it came time to serve out the match.

Playing a very tight, tentative game, Williams made an unforced error with the forehand and then hit a weak approach shot on break point that Tan redirected easily for a winner to level the match again at 5-5.

Tan held for 6-5, again forcing Williams to hold to extend the match to a 10-point tiebreak, which is new to Wimbledon this year. Williams got that done and led 4-0 in the decider but lost the next five points. With both players absolutely gassed, Williams' sent a forehand barely wide at 8-7, giving Tan a pair of match points. Tan almost had a look of disbelief moments later when Williams could not handle a skidding slice forehand and dumped it into the net, giving her the biggest win of her career. Williams waved to the crowd as she left the court, and now the question is whether it's her final goodbye to Wimbledon and the sport.

Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Serena returns to Wimbledon, loses three-set thriller to Harmony Tan

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