In her first match in a year, Serena Williams gave way to Harmony Tan after a three-hour, three-set defeat at Wimbledon. So what did the 23-time Grand Slam champion have to say about it?
“Today I gave all I could—you know, today,” Williams said after her 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) loss on Tuesday.
“Maybe tomorrow I could have gave more. Maybe a week ago I could have gave more. But today was what I could do. At some point you have to be OK with that.”
The fans were definitely okay with what Williams has shown on Centre Court after a year away from tennis. They were treated to a roller-coaster of emotions that lasted for three hours and 10 minutes, something, a theater-like display that only someone like Williams can bring.
The audience were reminded what they missed during Williams’ absence. Understandably, she had a slow start, opening with a series of errors that put her down 0-2. But afterwards, it was just like old times as Williams peppered the Centre with her screams and “come ons”, as well as facial expressions and fist-bumps that truly engaged the crowd to the match.
A fair lot of the old Serena was still on display – her lethal crosscourt forehand return and her even-more-lethal swing volley putaway, for instance. Her overhead was still accurate even though it may not have been the force that it once was. Her best serve still looked pretty great even though she could have used a few more aces (she finished with just five).
Even Williams was surprised with herself when she dug out low volleys and dropped them just over the net.
“Physically I was fine. Last couple points I really started to feel it. But I’m moving well, I’m getting a lot of balls back. I’m moving well in practice, as well,” Serena said.
“That wasn’t surprising for me because I knew I was doing that well. I didn’t practice for, you know, a three-hour match, so…I guess that’s where I went wrong.”
And that was what Williams couldn’t replicate on that day – her ability to come up with her best when she needed it and close out her opponent. She recovered from a break down and leveled the first set, but then she stumbled and came out broken at 5-5. During the third set, she served for the match at 5-4 and led 30-15, but lost control of her forehand later on.
During the tie-breaker, Williams was ahead 4-0 before again missing a series of forehands. She hit 61 winners, but she wasn’t able to maintain the balance between power and margin on her forehand long enough to come through completely.
Having Tan as an opponent has made it even more of a problem. The 24-year-old Tan, who is ranked 115th, kept on running, or slicing, or carving up drop shots, or changing speeds. She was also finding just enough space to thread her passing shots past Williams.
By bringing a squash player’s game to a tennis match, Tan somehow walked away the winner.
A stunned Tan said afterwards: “I put some slice, some change, some variety on the ball, and it works today.”
When Williams was asked if there will be more days such as this, she answered: “That’s a question I can’t answer. I feel like, you know, I don’t know. Who knows where I’ll pop up?”
She did give a hint about returning to the U.S. French Open.
“There’s definitely lots of motivation to get better and play at home.”