WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — If this turns out to have been
the last time the world gets to watch
Wimbledon — and she says she doesn't know, so how could the rest of us? — it would not be how she would want to depart, naturally.
Yet it still would be, in some ways, a suitable farewell.
As competitive as they come, Williams could never be satisfied by leaving with any defeat, let alone a first-round exit in a third-set tiebreaker against someone ranked 115th on Centre Court at the All England Club, where she earned seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles championships.
Which is why when Williams, who turns 41 in August, was asked Tuesday night whether she would be OK with the 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) loss to Harmony Tan being her final memory at Wimbledon, this was the immediate response: "Obviously not. You know me. Definitely not."
Quickly, this followed: "But today, I gave all I could do, you know, today. Maybe tomorrow, I could have gave more. Maybe a week ago, I could have gave more. But today, (that) was what I could do."
These circumstances would be far more apt under which to say goodbye — unlike on
June 29, 2021, the previous time Williams participated in a singles match at any event. On that day, she left in pain and against her will, forced to stop playing in the first set of her first-round match at Wimbledon after hurting her right leg in a slip on Centre Court.
This time, Williams gave her all for 3 hours, 11 minutes, dealing with rust and fatigue and Tan's speed-shifting mix of slices, riding all manner of momentum shifts through an entertaining, down-and-up-and-down-again spectacle that enthralled a raucous crowd.
"That was insane and intense," Williams wrote on
Instagram afterward. "Not the result I came for, but my goodness I enjoyed that. I hope you did as well. Onward and up."
There were some signature serves, at up to 118 mph. There was some turn-back-the-clock court coverage. There were powerful forehands and swinging volleys and, at one juncture, back-to-back backhand return winners of the sort she'd hit in her prime. There were the excited yells and raised fists after some of her most effective shots. And there were her mother, Oracene Price, and older sister, Venus, up in the guest box, just like old times.
"It definitely makes me want to hit the practice courts because," Williams said, "when you're playing not bad and you're so close ... I feel like that it's actually kind of like, ‘OK, Serena, you can do this if you want.'"