WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams, playing her first competitive singles match in 364 days, received another devastating early Wimbledon exit with a 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) loss to Harmony Tan on Tuesday took more than three hours and a 10-point third-set tiebreak to decide.
“Today I gave everything I could do, you know, today,” a dejected Williams said in front of a packed room of reporters after the game. “Maybe tomorrow I could have given more. Maybe a week ago I could have given more. But today that’s what I could have done.
“At some point you have to be able to be okay with that. And that’s all I can do. I can’t change the time or anything, so that’s it what I could do that day.”
Playing Tan, who is ranked No. 115 and was making her main draw debut at the tournament, in front of an adoring crowd on center court, Williams simultaneously showed signs of rust alongside glimpses of her signature shine.
At the end, both players received a standing ovation from those in the stands. The 40-year-old Williams, owner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, waved her hand several times as she left the court and twirled before disappearing into the exit. There has been a lot of speculation about Williams’ retirement, and she did little to quell that speculation after Tuesday’s game, giving vague answers to multiple questions about her future.
“That’s a question I can’t answer,” Williams said after the loss. “Like, I don’t know. I feel like, you know, I don’t know. Who knows? Who knows where I’ll show up.”
Williams had not played competitive singles since being forced to withdraw from her first-round match at the All England Club in 2021 due to what she later revealed was a hamstring tear. . While she had initially hoped to return in time for the US Open last year, the recovery took much longer than she expected and she took a break to give herself time to heal.
But she couldn’t escape the lingering disappointment of her 2021 Wimbledon exit.
“To be honest, it was a lot of motivation,” Williams said before the tournament started. “It was always something from the end of the game that was always on my mind. So that was a huge motivation for that.”
She decided in the spring to make a return to the All England Club, after a whirlwind year full of recovery, and off-the-pitch interests and activities. She began her return to competition last week in doubles at Eastbourne, alongside Ons Jabeur, to great fanfare. Both reached the semi-finals before being forced to withdraw with a knee injury for Jabeur, but Williams still believed she had gained valuable match experience.
Still, she needed the opening games of Tuesday’s game against Tan to regain her form, and her early game was riddled with errors.
“I had a few chances to win that first set,” Williams said. “You know, [it] It didn’t work out, so…yeah, it was just, yeah, different, totally different for me.”
But, as she has done countless times in her career, Williams fought back with a dominating performance in the second set, including winning a marathon second game by 30 points.
She looked to be in control in the third, holding a 3-1 lead, but Tan came back to win the next three games. From there, it was a battle in which the crowd seemed to live and breathe at every point, and both players reacted emphatically throughout.
It came to a head when Williams saved the match point at 5-6 in the third set to eventually force a decisive tiebreaker.
In the first-to-10 tiebreaker, Williams took a 4-0 lead. However, in the final moments, it slipped out of his control and Tan dominated.
“I think the last two points, I was really hurting there,” said Williams, who lost 16 of 24 rallies in the game that lasted nine or more shots. “But, yeah, I feel like in those key points, winning some of those points, it’s always something that you have to have mentally, that you kind of need. I did pretty well maybe -be one or two of them, 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 of any Open Era player. She is looking to equal Margaret Court’s long-standing record of 24, the most in history, since returning from childbirth in 2018. Since then, she has made four finals in those 14 majors, including at Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019, but failed each time. time.
However, Williams hasn’t completely ruled out a US Open appearance later this summer.
“When you’re at home, especially in New York, and at the US Open, that’s the first place I won a Grand Slam, it’s always something super special,” Williams said. “Your first time is always special.
“There’s definitely, you know, a lot of motivation to improve and play at home.”
Tan’s future is a little brighter. She now has the chance to play just her third round of 16 at a Grand Slam on Thursday against No. 32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo. But she didn’t seem ready to start thinking about it after Tuesday’s victory.
“It’s a dream because, you know, I saw Serena on TV when I was young,” Tan said. “My coach, Nathalie Tauziat, played it 20 years ago. …
“She’s a legend. I mean, she won 23 Grand Slams. When you play her, I was scared. I mean, I was scared when I was on the court, but really happy to ‘be there.”