At some point in this furious match – it was coming to a head and inevitably heading for its dramatic climax – Serena Williams did something that only she can do. She swung her left leg so high in the air it looked like a split. She raised her arms in the air. Another time, after another intense rally, she sank down, propping herself up on one knee. There was something solemn about the pose she struck. As if she was about to be knighted.
When she finally stole the service game from her opponent to make it 5: 4, she raised her arms again – had she ever celebrated a break more violently? She now had the chance to serve to victory. Everything was ready for the big headlines at that moment: Serena triumphed in her first match in a year! The Queen lives!
But Harmony Tan didn’t feel like these lines, which has now won its small, big place in tennis history. 7: 5, 1: 6, 7: 6 (10: 7) was the final result in favor of the 115th in the world rankings. Tan, with all due respect, hadn’t featured prominently on the sport’s dazzling stages so far in her career. But now the 24-year-old French from Paris is one who caused a spectacular “upset”, as the tennis world calls it. Because now the story of Serena Williams is very different than it was intended.
She is out of the tournament, Wimbledon continues without the seven-time winner of this grass classic. She would have the next opportunity to fight for her long-awaited 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open in late summer at the earliest. If she still wants to. And can.
Will Williams come back to Wimbledon? “I can’t answer that,” she says
Of course, after the game, which lasted more than 3:10 hours until Tuesday night, everything revolved around questions about the future. Will Williams return to the All England Club? “I can’t answer that,” she said at the press conference, “who knows where I’ll show up next.” Will you at least see them again at the next and last Grand Slam tournament this season? “When you’re at home, especially in New York, and at the US Open, the place of my first Grand Slam victory, it’s always super special,” said Williams: “It’s definitely a lot of motivation to get better and to play at home.”
After all, it sounded as if they were planning to start there. The US Open starts at the end of August, so she would have time to prepare more intensively for the hard court than she did for her appearances at the two grass tournaments in Eastbourne (doubles only) and Wimbledon. And that would also be necessary, because despite all the excitement and drama that Williams had offered: It also became apparent that even a super figure like her cannot simply unpack the bat after a long break and knock everyone away. Williams slipped in the first round of the Wimbledon tournament a year ago and injured her thigh so badly that she has not been able to practice tennis since.
Of course, Williams could have won that game against Tan. It wasn’t missing much. At 5:4 and 30:30 it was only two points. The great Martina Navratilova even got carried away on the BBC to claim that if Williams had won that match, she could have won the tournament. That may be, but then Williams should have improved significantly. Her positional play seemed rusty from time to time, running – and that’s only too human – the years have left their mark on her, on September 26 she will be 41 years old. She only hit five aces, which is extremely few, because her serve is the pillar of her dominance, especially on grass. She fired 61 winners, i.e. directly won points, into the field on Center Court, but she also made 54 slight mistakes. Williams himself recognized that it would have lacked the “toughness” that you only get when you play for several weeks at a time. But she hasn’t.
Tan also made life difficult for her, and her tactics deserved credit. She acted tough, kept balls in play and used opportunities to attack. And the fact that she liked to slice with the forehand, a shot with an undercut that lets the balls bounce extremely flat, was worth its weight in gold. “Any other opponent would have suited my game better,” Williams complained characteristically. It is surprising that not many more professionals generally dare the forehand slice. It’s one of the most toxic, most underrated punch variants.
When Serena Williams left the square, she was cheered loudly
At 5: 6 in the third set, Williams had fended off a match point from Tan. She saved herself in the tie-break, which in Wimbledon in the deciding set is not played to seven, but to ten. Williams led 4-0. That was one of those moments where it seemed like she was rolling. But Tan stopped them radically. She was frighteningly insistent, like the British cops when they sternly admonish you to use the sidewalk and not walk in the street. Within a few minutes, Tan was leading 5:4. She used the second match point, Williams hit a forehand into the net.
When the defeated left the place, she was cheered so loudly that the uniqueness of this moment could be felt. The winner herself could hardly believe her luck. “It’s a dream for me. I saw Serena on TV when I was young,” enthused Tan, who is 16 years her junior. “When I saw the draw, I was really scared. She’s such a legend. I thought : Oh my god, how can I play against them? It’s good if I win a game or two.”
Williams did at least find her sense of humor late at night. She would have really accepted the fight, she rightly said, “I did what I could do”. She wasn’t angry either: “It was a big win for me, my biggest ever, and I didn’t smash a racket.”