September 25, 2022

LONDON, June 28 (Reuters) – Seven-time champion Serena Williams suffered a second straight exit in the first round of Wimbledon as she was stunned by French debutante Harmony Tan in a late-night epic on Center Court on Tuesday .

A year after the American pulled out injured from what many feared would be her last Wimbledon match, her return was eagerly awaited, but 115th-placed Tan tore up the script with a 7-5 1-6 7 -6 (7) heartbreaking. to win.

With the roof of Center Court closed for the final two sets and the time approaching the 11pm curfew at Wimbledon, Tan had a match point snatched away when the 40-year-old Williams served at 5- 6 in a deciding roller coaster set.

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A weary Williams then appeared close to victory as they took a 4-0 lead in the ‘super tie-break’.

But Tan, who had never played a Wimbledon main draw match before let alone against one of the game’s greats on a showcourt fever, was not done.

Sticking to the slice and slow ball smashes that had baffled Williams throughout an absorbing duel, she battled her way into a 9-7 lead before sealing victory as Williams scored a right hit.

Williams, who hadn’t played a singles match since retiring injured against Aliaksandra Sasnovich here last year, rode through all the emotions in three hours and 11 minutes of drama and put her fans through their paces too.

But in the end, a lack of match sharpness proved too much as another quest for a 24th Grand Slam title hit the pads and the question is whether she will ever get another chance.

Tan, who had only won two Grand Slam main draw matches compared to the 98 won at Wimbledon alone by Williams, could hardly believe what she had done after claiming by far the biggest victory of her modest career.

“I’m so emotional now. Serena is a superstar and when I was young I watched her so many times on TV,” the 24-year-old told the court. “For my first Wimbledon, it’s wow. Just wow.

“When I saw the draw I was really scared. Because it’s Serena Williams, she’s a legend. I thought if I could win one or two games, that was really good for me.”

“BETTER THAN LAST YEAR”

While the loss, which his opponent ranked was the worst of his Wimbledon career, was a bitter pill to swallow, Williams said it was easier to accept than last year.

“It was definitely a very long battle and a fight and it’s definitely better than last year. It’s a start,” Williams told reporters. “I think physically I did pretty well. I think the last two points I really suffered there.”

When asked if she would be back at Wimbledon, Williams was coy.

“That’s a question I can’t answer. I do not know. Who knows ? Who knows where I will appear? »

Despite Williams’ theoretical rating of 1,204, on paper the game looked like a mismatch.

Tan, 24, had only nine Tour victories in her career and none on grass compared to former world number one Williams’ 832.

But from the start, it was clear that stats and reputations could be ignored.

A succession of wild errors from the Williams racquet gave Tan a 2-0 lead before she found a rhythm to advance 4-2. But Tan, whose subtle play belongs to a bygone era, showed great skill on the court and broke Williams’ powerful serve twice in a row before snatching the opener.

Williams broke serve after a jaw-dropping 19-minute game at the start of the second set that left both players gasping, then saving four break points in the next game before running through the rest of the set as Tan s is faded.

Leading 3-1 in the deciding game, Williams seemed in control, but it was an illusion as Tan hit a beautiful backhand winner to come back for 3-3.

Screamed by the crowd, Williams broke again at 4-4 and celebrated wildly as if she had won the title, but once again Tan showed real courage and broke with another stunning backhand.

When Williams saved match point with a swing volley to enter a tiebreaker, logic suggested Tan would eventually fold.

But it was Williams who faltered with victory in sight.

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Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Toby Davis

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