Former world number one and holder of 23 Grand Slams was playing at Wimbledon after a year out through injury.
Playing her first singles match for a year after injury, Serena Williams’s opening-round Wimbledon loss to Harmony Tan on Tuesday was hardly her most unexpected defeat, but there were plenty of signs it could be the most portentous yet.
It made for uncomfortable viewing seeing the rusty seven-time Wimbledon champion a faded shadow of the player who has won 23 Grand Slam singles crowns.
Williams brushed off any talk of retirement by insisting she is “motivated” to play at the US Open later this year despite the shattering Wimbledon defeat.
“The US Open was the place where I won my first Slam, it’s super-special. There’s definitely a lot of motivation to get better and play at home,” the 40-year-old American said.
Williams went down 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 to unseeded Harmony Tan, the world number 115, in the opening round.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 28, 2022
She refused to speculate on whether she will be back at Wimbledon in 2023.
“I am just playing for right now. I see how I feel and go from there. Who knows where I will pop up.
“Today I gave all I could do … 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 OK with that.
“And that’s all I can do. I can’t change time or anything.”
There are a number of things Serena Williams could be doing tonight. She has a great family, millions in the bank, 23 grand slams & successful businesses. But here she is, grinding and hustling for every ball on Centre Court. What an athlete… #Wimbledon
– Uche Amako (@UcheAmako) June 28, 2022
Earlier, Williams walked onto Centre Court for the evening match and quickly looked rusty. She was broken in her first service game.
Far below her imperious best and apparently lacking fitness, Williams bounced back, breaking in the fourth game to level at 2-2, buoyed by a supportive crowd.
The pair swapped further breaks but Tan, ranked 115th, broke again in the 11th game and held her nerve to close out the set 7-5.
Williams broke after a mammoth second game of the second set and went on to level the match 6-1.
The American was first to break in the decider but Tan levelled at 3-3. Williams broke again in the ninth game, throwing her arms into the air in jubilation but faltered as she served for the match.
Serena hasn’t played in a year
She’s 40 years old
She’s one away from 24 majors
She’s playing this match with the same emotion as if it was a semifinal
She is the greatest female athlete, maybe EVER!
– Dan Leach (@ DanLeach971) June 28, 2022
She faced a match point on her own serve in the 12th game but saved it with a forehand volley, taking the contest into a third-set tie-break.
Williams stepped up a gear, winning the first four points as the match, under the Wimbledon roof, ticked past three hours.
But still her French opponent was not down and out, winning the next five points to edge ahead.
Williams, looking out of breath, could not find inspiration, netting when facing a second match point.
She finished with 61 winners but 54 unforced errors in the three-hour, 11-minute evening match.
See you soon Serena 👋
— We Are Tennis (@WeAreTennis) June 28, 2022