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Serena Williams gave what she could in her first match in a year: a three-hours loss to Harmony Tan, rife with theater
“Today was what I could do,” said the 40-year-old, 23-time Grand Slam singles champion. “At some point you have to be OK with that.”
Published Jun 28, 2022
PRESS CONFERENCE: Serena Williams after her three-hour, three-set defeat to Harmony Tan at Wimbledon
“Today I gave all I could—you know, today,” Serena Williams said after her 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) loss to Harmony Tan at Wimbledon 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.”
Tennis fans around the world were surely OK with what the 40-year-old American gave on Centre Court. We tuned in to see Serena return to tennis after a year away, and were rewarded with a three-hour and 10-minute roller-coaster of emotions, and the kind of theater that only she can bring to the tennis stage.
Over that time, Serena reminded us of what we had missed during her absence. That began with a customary, and understandable, slow start; she opened with a spree of errors that put her down 0-2. But soon it felt and sounded like old times in Centre, as her screams and “Come ons!” and fist-pumps and facial expressions had the crowd thoroughly involved.
Serena’s lethal crosscourt forehand return was still there. Her even-more-lethal swing volley putaway was still there. Her overhead may not have had the force that it once did, but it was accurate. And while she could have used a few more aces—she finished with just five—her greatest-ever serve still looked pretty great. Serena even seemed to surprise herself when she dug out low volleys and dropped them just over the net for winners.
“Physically I was fine,” Serena said. “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.
“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 the part of the old Serena experience that she couldn’t replicate today: Her ability to find her best when she needed it and close out her opponent. She came back from a break down to level the first set, but then stumbled and was broken at 5-5. In the third set, she served for the match at 5-4 and led 30-15, only to lose control of her forehand. In the deciding tiebreaker, she led 4-0 before again missing a series of forehands. Serena hit 61 winners, but she couldn’t maintain the right balance between power and margin on her forehand for long enough.
I feel like, you know, I don’t know. Who knows where I’ll pop up? Serena Williams, on when she'll play again
Against some opponents that might not have mattered; but Tan made it matter. The 24-year-old, 115th-ranked Frenchwoman never stopped running, or slicing, or carving up drop shots, or changing speeds, or finding just enough space to thread her passing shots past Serena. She brought a squash player’s game to a tennis match, and somehow walked away a winner.
“I put some slice, some change, some variety on the ball, and it works today,” said a stunned Tan afterward.
Will there be more days like this for Serena?
“That’s a question I can’t answer,” she said. “I feel like, you know, I don’t know. Who knows where I’ll pop up?”
But she did hint at a return at the US Open.
“There’s definitely lots of motivation to get better and play at home.”
For now, she was happy to have played at what has always been a second home for her in tennis, the site of seven of her 23 major titles, and an Olympic singles gold.
“It was an incredible, incredible, crowd,” Serena said. “I was just so happy to be out there playing in front of them. I was just grateful for the claps and the cheers, yeah, for everything.”