Serena Williams exits Wimbledon in the first round after losing to Harmony Tan
Heartbreak for Serena Williams on her emotional return to Wimbledon, as she is beaten by the unknown Harmony Tan in the three-hour first-round epic under the lights on Center Court… as questions arise as to whether she’ll EVER be back on SW19
Serena Williams walked off Center Court Tuesday night, possibly for the last time, after failing to stem the tide of youth.
The American fought to keep her career alive at Wimbledon, but was ultimately unable to meet the challenge of a balanced and courageous opponent in France’s Harmony Tan, which triumphed 7-5 1-6 7-6 after more than three hours.
A decisive super tiebreak saw her recover from 0-4 to 10-7, with Williams straining every tendon within her aging frame.
The tournament’s lowest placed woman with 1204 – a nominative wildcard with her seven previous singles titles – eventually lost the battle to hide the fact that she hadn’t played for 12 months.
As with most events in her career it was never dull or predictable, a clash of styles lit up the great old arena with Williams starring as she has so many times before.
It was as if the 23-time Grand Slam champion came to this fight, armed with a baseball bat, on her opponent’s stiletto.
Even at the age of 40, the American can summon ferocious power, and when she launched her fight back, the blows were often accompanied by determined screams and moans to amplify them.
In an era when many of the top ten women were able to walk down Wimbledon High Street without any fear of being recognized, Williams retains a star quality all its own.
As number 113 in the world, Parisian Tan could certainly stroll undisturbed down the Champs Elysees, but she has a delightful play to watch that hints at another era.
It probably helps that she is coached by the savvy Nathalie Tauziat, one of Wimbledon’s less-remembered finalists from 1998.
Williams was hesitant about how much preparation she’d had for this, arriving in Eastbourne last week.
An experienced coach who witnessed her first practice on the South Coast ventured that her ball touch was so clean that she must have been well trained for a while.
So perhaps this was less of a calculated risk – only playing two doubles in Sussex before moving on to SW19 – than could have been estimated.
The American walked onto the track almost immediately after Rafael Nadal ended his on-track interview. The idea of a 20-minute break between games lasted less than 48 hours this year — not the first time in history that the rules for Serena have changed.
Williams was like a diesel that didn’t fire well at first, barely able to get going for the first two games, but then shifted slowly through the gears and lanes to get up to full speed.
Tan’s tactics were clear. To harness her opponent’s movement with the dexterous use of angles and sticks, which turned out to be a remarkable dropshot winner.
The effect soon wore off as Williams gradually turned a 0-2 deficit into a 4-2 lead but was unable to throw the decisive blows as the set was up for grabs.
The audience loved it, because advanced age grants a player preferential treatment that would not have been there in her splendor.
The French player continued to harass her creatively and although the American’s legs moved better, she couldn’t muster the consistency to keep the game from going backwards. This despite managing a 118mph ace which made the memories flood.
Tan took the set with a blinding cross court pass that, as it turned out, sent them into a break as the roof had to be closed.
It became clear that Williams’ stamina would be tested. The first set lasted 64 minutes and the second game of the next barely lasted 20 minutes and 30 points before the American finally got a seventh chance to break.
Experience helps when it comes to the transition from daylight to floodlight, and the more emboldened Williams started steaming through the set.
The timing returned and a special key was her landing of three of the four first services. Suddenly her strength became too much even for the skillful defense against her.
Tan took a six-minute toilet break for the decider, a chance to organize her thoughts and for Williams to lose some momentum.
Williams had a chance to serve it out at 5-4 in the decider, but the ever-balanced Tan cut her admirably for mistakes and took it into the new super tie-break.