Williams loses 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 in first round epic
Williams could have played her last match at Wimbledon
Serena Williams offered no guarantees that she will return to Wimbledon after bombing out of the tournament in the first round.
In the wake of her 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 defeat at the hands of little-known Frenchwoman Harmony Tan, Williams was asked if this might be her final appearance at the event where she has won seven singles and seven doubles titles.
"That's a question I can't answer,” Williams replied. “I don't know. Who knows? Who knows where I'll pop up."
Still, if this does prove to be Williams’s last outing at Wimbledon, it was an outing to remember. She delivered a ferociously determined performance, battling away for three hours and 14 minutes and coming within two points of victory. And yet, her lack of competitive time on court proved fatal in the end.
A snap comeback like this was simply too much to ask of a 40-year-old entrepreneur whose last completed singles match came all the way back at the 2021 French Open. Admittedly, there were spells when Williams looked like her old self, driving the ball deep into the corners with venom and conviction. But there were also spells when her chest was heaving like a bellows, and she simply couldn’t keep up with her smaller, lighter, younger, and more fleet-footed opponent.
Yes, Williams tested the water with a couple of doubles matches in Eastbourne last week, but there she could leave most of the running to her 27-year-old partner Ons Jabeur. Last night, she had to rumble around the court on her own, against an opponent who threw in a lot of junk (tennis speak for softly struck balls that are often loaded with backspin).
“I think I could have played any person, probably would have had a different result,” said Williams afterwards. “Any other opponent probably would have suited my game better. I knew going into it there was a lot of slice, but not so much on the forehand.”
Tan had never even performed at Wimbledon before, by contrast with Williams’s 98 victories on these grounds. In the circumstances, it was a magnificent effort from her to outplay Williams down the home stretch, especially as she is someone who lacks aggressive weaponry and thus has to make up the power gap with ingenuity and craft.
The impression was of a dinghy sailing rings around a stately galleon, staying out of the way of the heavy cannon while inflicting numerous minor wounds. Clashes of styles are what make great tennis matches, and this was a case in point. Should Wimbledon deliver a more compelling contest in 2022, we will all have been spoiled.
Williams has spent the last five years chasing Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles but that familiar old target must still feel a very long way away. Goodness knows how long it will take her to get out of bed this morning. Here was a brutally physical examination for someone who hasn’t been tested in this manner for over a year.
Even on Monday, Williams’s body felt like a classic car on a cold morning as it stuttered slowly into life. She barely moved during the first five minutes as she went 2-0 down, prompting the crowd to try to rouse her with unsolicited bursts of encouraging applause. Only in the third game did Williams begin to swing her racket with conviction, finally making the ball zip off the strings with a reassuring “pop”.
As for Tan, she could so easily have been overwhelmed by Williams’s sheer aura, as well as the grandeur of this historic stage. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. Instead, the 24-year-old – who is ranked a modest No 115 in the world – settled quickly. She put almost every ball back in play and barely gave away any freebies, asking Williams to make all the running.
“When I first saw the draw, I was really scared,” said Tan in a wide-eyed on-court interview. “Because it's Serena Williams, she's a legend. I was like, 'How can I play?' And if I win one game or two games, it [would be] really good for me.
"I don't know what to say, because she's a superstar. And when I was young, watching her so many times on the TV. And for my first Wimbledon? Wow. Just wow."
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 28, 2022
There were a couple of pauses that, on another night, might have given Williams the opportunity to regroup. The roof closed after the first set because of poor light – as is now almost the norm at a tournament that increasingly extends beyond daylight hours. Then Tan took a six-minute bathroom break at the end of the second, as she looked to interrupt Williams’s growing momentum.
The deciding set flipped back and forward like one of those inflatable dancers you see outside petrol stations. Having been a break up, Williams was reeled back in, and then moved ahead again. She had the chance to serve for the win at 5-4. But her right arm grew painfully tight and she couldn’t land her serve.
Now it was Tan’s turn. She brought up a match point at 6-5, only for Williams to stave off the danger for a little longer with a brave drive volley. “Tan played the first match point not wanting to lose,” said Martina Navratilova on the BBC commentary, “but she will have to play to win if she is going to get the tie-break.”
And that’s exactly what Tan did, striking her most assertive groundstrokes of the night as she surged over the line by a 10-7 margin. It was an evening to remember on Centre Court. But it wasn’t the fairytale finale that Williams was looking for.
Williams loses in Wimbledon first round, as it happened:
Williams 5-7, 6-1, 6-7 Tan
Williams backhand winner 1-0. And another forehand winner, 2-0. Williams' wide first serve is unreturned by Tan, 3-0. Tan backhand long, 4-0. Tan backhand winner down the line, 4-1. Tan lobs Williams, 4-2.
Tan forehand winner down the line, 4-3. Williams forehand into the tramlines, 4-4. Williams forehand into the tramlines, 4-5. Williams drop shot winner, 5-5. Williams volley winner, 6-5. Williams return long, 6-6.
Williams drop shot into the net, 6-7. Tan forehand winner, 6-8. Tan forehand wide, 7-8. Williams forehand wide, 7-9.
TWO MATCH POINTS
Williams forehand into the net, 7-10. GAME>SET>MATCH TAN.
What a match.
Williams 5-7, 6-1, 6-6 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Tan drop shot into the net, 15-0. Wild Williams backhand flies long, 15-15. Williams nets a forehand, 15-30.
The crowd are trying to inspire Williams here.
Williams backhand winner down the line, 30-30. HUGE POINT COMING UP.
Williams backhand well long, MATCH POINT TAN. Saved by Williams with a drive forehand winner.
Tan slices into the net, advantage Williams. And she holds on when Tan's forehand goes long.
Williams* 5-7, 6-1, 5-6 Tan (*denotes next server)
Tan starts the game with a lovely drop shot winner, 15-0. Tan tries another drop shot but it drops into the tramlines, 15-30.
Good backhand down the line by Tan and Williams flicks her forehand into the tramlines, 30-30.
Wild Williams backhand flies wide, 40-30. Williams winner, deuce.
Tan HOLDS with a backhand winner. Williams will need to hold serve to force a 10 point tiebreak.
Williams 5-7, 6-1, 5-5 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Williams backhand into the net, 0-15. Tan nets a backhand return, 15-15. Huge shank by Williams stays in the court and Tan nets a forehand, 30-15.
Tense second serve by Williams and Tan goes after it and is rewarded with the error, 30-30.
Williams backhand into the net, 30-40. Tan BREAKS BACK. She draws Williams to the net and rifles a backhand winner cross court.
Williams* 5-7, 6-1, 5-4 Tan (*denotes next server)
Williams forehand drive volley winner, 0-15. Tan steps up and hits a backhand winner up the line, 15-15.
Tan backhand into the tramlines, 15-30. Williams falls to her knees as she hits the deftest drop shot you'll ever see, two break points.
Williams backhand long, 30-40. Another gripping rally and Williams breaks when Tan nets a high volley.
Wow. Williams to serve for the match next.
Williams 5-7, 6-1, 4-4 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Williams backhand into the net, 15-30. A roar from Williams as Tan's backhand return goes long, 30-30.
Long, tense rally but Tan blinks first when her backhand drifts beyond the baseline, 40-30.
Tan backhand return flies long and Williams holds.
Williams* 5-7, 6-1, 3-4 Tan (*denotes next server)
Lovely drop shot by Tan, Williams shows great speed to reach it but Tan finishes the point with a backhand winner, 40-15.
Double fault by Tan, 40-30. Great rally between the two players and Tan hangs on to hold and take the lead in this set.
Williams 5-7, 6-1, 3-3 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Wild service game by Williams as she slips to 0-40. Williams saves the first by going on the attack and Tan nets a backhand.
Williams hits a very good approach shot with the forehand but Tan responds with an incredible cross court backhand winner. Tan breaks back!!
Williams* 5-7, 6-1, 3-2 Tan (*denotes next server)
Williams is desperate to get the double break here but Tan withstands the pressure to hang on in this set.
Williams 5-7, 6-1, 3-1 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Classic cross-court Williams backhand winner, 15-15. Williams is really targeting the backhand side of Tan and winning regularly.
Williams with another winner to consolidate the break.
Williams* 5-7, 6-1, 2-1 Tan (*denotes next server)
Forehand down the line by Tan is just wide, 0-30. Tan pulls it back to 30-30 then inexplicably hits a double fault. Break point.
Relief for Tan as Williams puts a forehand long, Second break point for Williams as she dominates the rally and puts away the overhead.
Tan backhand long and Williams breaks. That might just be the decisive moment of the match.
Williams 5-7, 6-1, 1-1 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Big serve, even bigger overhead winner by Williams, 30-15. But she then hits a very tame sliced backhand into the net, 30-30.
Nevertheless, Williams holds when Tan nets a forehand.
Third Set: Williams* 5-7, 6-1, 0-1 Tan (*denotes next server)
Long break as Tan leaves the court and returns after a toilet break.
On the resumption, Tan holds to 15.
Williams 5-7, 6-1 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Backhand by Tan drifts long, 15-15. Tan puts a backhand into the net, 30-15. Applause from the crowd as a spectator catches the ball after Williams frames a ball out, 30-30.
Williams ace, set point. Another huge first serve and Williams takes the set.
Into a decider we go.
Williams* 5-7, 5-1 Tan (*denotes next server)
Better from Tan as she forces Williams into putting a forehand long, 15-15. Nice sliced backhand by Tan draws the error from Williams, 40-15.
Tan does get on the scoreboard in this game when Williams puts a forehand return long. A long way back in this set though.
Williams 5-7, 5-0 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Williams is running away with the set now as Tan makes a few more errors. The energy used in those early games of the set are starting to catch up with her.
Williams* 5-7, 4-0 Tan (*denotes next server)
Big backhand return by Williams is a winner, 15-30. You get the sense she is starting to settle.
Now a forehand return winner, two break points. Weary looking backhand drop shot into the net by Tan and she is broken again.
Williams 5-7, 3-0 Tan* (*denotes next server)
The previous game took over 19 minutes.
Williams hits a wild forehand long on the opening point but responds with an overhead winner, 15-15.
Williams forehand into the net, 15-40. Williams saves the first break point with an overhead winner. And the second as she shows a soft touch with a drop shot.
Woeful attempted drop shot by Williams, third break point for Tan. Forehand drive volley winner by Williams.
Fourth break point for Tan after a gripping rally at the net and Williams' volley goes just wide. Williams saves break point again when Tan can't get a forehand back in play.
And Williams consolidates the break when Tan nets a backhand.
Williams* 5-7, 2-0 Tan (*denotes next server)
Williams forehand winner, 30-30. One too many short balls by Tan and she is punished as Williams drives a forehand into the corner, break point.
Tan drop shot winner, she loves that shot, deuce. Williams forehand winner, second break point.
Williams' forehand goes just long, deuce. Tan puts a backhand down the line long, third break point.
Gusty backhand up the line by Tan is a winner, deuce. This is the performance of her life.
Williams then rises to the occasion as she reaches a Tan drop shot and flicks an angled forehand winner, break point again.
Tan responds with another backhand winner. What a game this is!!
Longest game of the match as we go well past 10 minutes and still Tan can't get out of this service game.
Tan puts a sliced forehand long and Williams has another break point. Multiple great forehands by Tan gets Williams on the run and the American eventually puts a forehand wide.
Williams backhand return winner, break point. Tan with another brilliant backhand winner to hang on, Williams slumps her shoulders.
Huge cheers on Centre as Williams takes control and hits a drive forehand winner. Forehand shank by Williams and she finally breaks.
What a game.
Second Set: Williams 5-7, 1-0 Tan* (*denotes next server)
The roof is covering the court and the floodlights are on.
First game after the break and Williams holds to love easily. Game face on.
We are going to have a pause in play as the roof is closed. Williams takes the chance to leave the court.
Tan stays seated for now. Massive upset brewing on Centre Court.
Williams* 5-7 Tan (*denotes next server)
Williams goes on the attack and moves forward to hit a drive volley winner, 0-30. Williams forehand into tramlines, 15-30.
Williams forehand return long, 30-30. Tan drop shot into the net, break point Williams.
Williams backhand return long, bad miss, deuce. Set point Tan after another Williams unforced error.
Set Tan after a sensational forehand pass.
Williams 5-6 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Another wayward backhand by Williams, 15-30. Williams hits a forehand well long, two break points.
Tan forehand winner to break. Wow.
Williams* 5-5 Tan (*denotes next server)
Good serving by Tan helps her to 30-0. Williams forehand return winner down the line off a weak second serve by Tan, 30-15.
Tan drifts a defensive forehand long, 40-30. Brilliant drop shot by Tan off a Williams' return.
Williams 5-4 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Big roar from Williams as Tan puts a backhand long, 15-0. Williams backhand winner, 40-0.
Another fist pump from Williams as Tan nets a backhand. Huge pressure on Tan now to stay in the set.
Williams* 4-4 Tan (*denotes next server)
Williams nets a backhand, 30-0. Then she just misses with an attempted cross court backhand pass, 40-0.
Williams finally gets it right with a backhand down the line, 40-15. Brilliant from Tan as she keeps herself in the rally miraculously and drills a backhand down the line for a winner.
Williams 4-3 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Second ace of the match for Williams, 30-15. Tan just misses with a backhand down the line, 40-15.
Williams double fault, 40-30. She then puts a forehand into the tramlines, deuce.
Another forehand into the tramlines and Tan has a break point. Vital first serve down the T from Williams to save break point.
Incredible lob by Tan onto the baseline, break point. Saved by Williams with an excellent volley on the stretch.
Williams forehand into the net after great defence from Tan, break point. Williams hits a lovely drop volley to hang on in his game. Williams then gestures to her box as if to say: 'what else can I do'.
Williams backhand into the net, break point Tan again. Williams gets caught by a bad bounce and hits a forehand long to drop serve.
This match is a bit of mess truth be told.
Williams* 4-2 Tan (*denotes next server)
Williams is starting to settle into the match now and an overhead winner makes it 15-30. But she undoes that by flicking a sliced backhand long, 30-30. Williams forehand into the tramlines, 40-30.
Trademark short angled backhand winner by Williams, deuce. Williams overhead winner, break point.
Williams steps in on Tan's weak serve with her forehand and the Frenchwoman can't get her defensive forehand back into play. Williams breaks.
Williams 3-2 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Vintage Williams as she races to 40-0. And she moves in front for the first time when Tan nets a forehand.
Williams* 2-2 Tan (*denotes next server)
Williams drags Tan left then right then left again but then puts a forehand down the line long, 15-15.
Williams forehand winner, 15-30. Tan hits back with a backhand winner of her own, 30-30.
Tan flicks a backhand onto the baseline, Williams challenges it but Hawkeye backs the original call, 40-30.
Williams on the attack with back-to-back winners to bring up a break point. Williams tries to come forward after pushing Tan deep but she puts her backhand long, deuce.
Second double fault for Tan, second Williams break point. Saved by Tan as she finds her first serve, deuce.
Williams overhead winner after showing great hustle to chase down Tan's shots, break point. Tan keeps herself in the rally as Williams attacks her forehand side, Tan then takes control of the rally but puts a forehand wide to drop serve.
What a game!
Williams 1-2 Tan* (*denotes next server)
Big fist pump by Williams as she hits a forehand winner. And she finally gets on the board when Tan fails to get her return back in play.
Williams* 0-2 Tan (*denotes next server)
Crowd trying to give encouragement to Williams but she makes very careless errors at this early stage.
Williams puts a backhand wide as she tries to pass Tan at the net, 40-15. Tan slips over chasing for a wide ball and that allows Williams to put a forehand into the open court.
Tan does consolidate the break when Williams nets a return.
First Set: Serena Williams 0-1 Harmony Tan* (*denotes next server)
Nervy start by Williams as she slips to 0-30 then inexplicably puts a drive forehand long. Three break points.
Williams saves the first. But not the second as she can't control her volley and it flies high and wide.
Here we go!
Very quick turnaround as Serena and Tan stride onto court.
Williams wins the toss and opts to serve first.
Serena should be on court shortly.
It is not looking good for Nadal
Cerundolo leads the fourth set 3-1, with Nadal two sets to one up.
The wait for Serena goes on...
Cerundolo has taken the third set against Nadal. Follow all the action from that match here
Serena bumped into Novak earlier...
Serena is on Centre Court after Nadal
Nadal is currently two sets up against Cerundolo, with the third set at 2-2.
Serena Williams is back at SW19
Welcome to our live coverage of Serena Williams' Wimbledon return, with the 23-time grand slam winner taking centre stage on Centre Court against Harmony Tan for a place in the second round.
Williams has been awarded a wildcard to compete for a record 24th major title at the All England Club, after nearly a year on the sidelines through injury.
The 40-year-old last played a competitive match on Centre Court at last year's tournament, when she was forced to retire during the first round through a hamstring problem.
She has only two doubles matches at Eastbourne under her belt going into the year's third major where she takes on the Frenchwoman. However, Williams says she was was glad Wimbledon broke with tradition and allowed players to practise on the iconic Centre Court to avoid a repeat of them slipping on the lush green grass which marred last year's tournament.
"Obviously I was super happy to be out there and have that opportunity. It was also good for me to get that out of my system because the last moment I had on Centre Court was probably not my best moment," Williams said.
"It was always something since the match ended that was always on my mind. So it was a tremendous amount of motivation for that.
"You never want any match to end like that, it's really unfortunate. But it was definitely something that's always been on the top of my mind."
We will have game-by-game updates of this encounter plus post-match reaction in this blog.
You can also keep up to date with what else is happening at SW19 today on our other live blog, including the highlights of Rafael Nadal's first-round match.
The players are due out on court shortly and then there will have the usual hit-up before the match gets under way in earnest.