Wimbledon: Has Time Caught Up With Serena?

Serena Williams (photo: Wimbledon.com video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams lost an epic Centre Court battle to France’s Harmony Tan at the Wimbledon Championships Tuesday evening. In her 21st appearance at the All England Club, she fought her heart out for more than three hours before falling, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7), to an opponent who was making her Wimbledon debut.

Whether time has finally caught up with the 40-year-old American remains to be seen. After all, her 27-year professional career has seen its share of peaks and valleys and she’s come back from injuries and near-death experiences to capture 23 career major titles, one shy of tying Margaret Court’s record of 24. One thing’s certain: Serena never backs down from a challenge and wasn’t about to against the 115th-ranked Tan, who is 16 years Serena’s junior, but showed a deft touch in her shot selection and twice came back from being a break down in the final set. She garnered her first grass-court win at Tour level with her victory over Williams, formerly ranked World No. 1 but now No. 1,204 and three months shy of turning 41.

A year after tearing her hamstring during a fall on Centre Court and not playing a singles match for 52 weeks, Williams was welcomed back to Centre Court. It’s a place where she’s enjoyed many of her greatest moments as a professional.

Although, it should be noted that Tan made her work hard for her points. That’s because the 24-year-old Frenchwoman had a few tricks up her sleeve and varied her shots throughout the three-hour and 11-minute match.

“When I saw the draw, I was really scared,” Tan said after her career-best victory. “Because it’s Serena Williams, she’s a legend. I was like, oh my God. How can I play? If I could win one game, or two games, it’s really good for me.”

As it turned out, Tan, who had never played a main-draw match at Wimbledon before Tuesday, won more than just a few games. She won two sets culminated by a match tiebreaker. She hit 29 winners to 28 unforced errors and converted five of 15 break-point chances despite being outpointed 124-119 by Williams.

At times, Williams raised her level to meet the challenge, but at other times there was no rhythm. She let an early 4-2 lead slip away as Tan combined drop shots and slices from both forehand and backhand sides to keep Williams guessing. Eventually, Tan pulled out the set under clear skies before Williams leveled the match with a solid second-set performance with the roof closed to provide lighting due to darkness setting in outside.

Soon, in the third set, the American let a 3-1 lead get away from her after she was broken twice. Tan edged ahead 6-5 after she hit a drop-shot winner, but Williams saved a match point with a forehand drive volley winner. It brought the crowd to its feet in support of Serena. However, with a match tie-break to decide the outcome, it was Tan who remained steady and true when the stakes were their highest, while Williams showed signs of fatigue.

“Today, I gave all I could do,” Williams said during her post-match press conference. She finished with 61 winners but made 54 unforced errors. “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 able to be okay with that. And that’s all I can do. I can’t change time or anything. That’s all I can do on this particular day.”

When Williams was asked whether she will come back to play Wimbledon again, it was a question that she didn’t have a definitive answer to. “That’s a question I can’t answer,” she said. “Like, I don’t know. Who knows? Who knows where I’ll pop up.”

However, it would seem almost a certainty that Williams will resurface at this summer’s US Open, a major that she has already won six times in her storied career. After losing in her first match back, perhaps she will find motivation to get back on the practice court. “It definitely makes me want to hit the practice courts because when you’re playing not bad and you’re so close. Like I said, any other opponent probably would have suited my game better. So, yeah, I feel like that it’s actually kind of like, ‘Okay, Serena, you can do this if you want. …

“There’s definitely lots of motivation to get better and to play at home.”

Stay tuned.


Next, Tan will play No. 32 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the second round on Thursday. The Spaniard breezed past 261st-ranked qualifier Christina McHale of the United States, 6-2, 6-1, on Tuesday.

By the numbers

The loss was just the third first-round loss at a Grand Slam for Williams. Her win -loss record at Wimbledon is a remarkable 98-14.

“Quotable …”

“I think physically I did pretty good. I think the last couple points, I was really suffering there, but I feel like in just those key points, winning some of those points, is always something mentally that you have to have, that you kind of need. I did pretty good on maybe one or two of them, but obviously not enough.”

Serena Williams, 40, during her post-match press conference following her first-round loss to Harmony Tan.