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Serena Williams Exits Wimbledon within the First Round, Again

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WIMBLEDON, England — It was the twenty first time that Serena Williams has played Wimbledon. It was Harmony Tan’s first time, but Tan will probably be the player heading to the second round on the All England Club.

Tan, a Frenchwoman ranked a hundred and fifteenth who’s little-known even in her country, defeated Williams, the best women’s tennis champion of her era, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7). Williams had not played a singles match on tour since retiring in the primary round of last yr’s Wimbledon in tears with a hamstring injury, but she got to play loads of tennis on Tuesday evening on the Centre Court where she had won seven Wimbledon singles titles. Her grueling duel with Tan was a stylistic contrast that lasted 3 hours and 11 minutes. What was missing for Williams was the upbeat, reaffirming finish, and he or she didn’t hesitate when asked if she was OK with this being her final Wimbledon memory if that was the way in which it turned out.

“Obviously not. You recognize me. Definitely not,” Williams, 40, said. “But today I gave all I could do, , today. Possibly tomorrow I could have gave more. Possibly every week ago I could have gave more. But today was what I could do. In some unspecified time in the future you may have to give you the chance to be OK with that. And that’s all I can do. I can’t change time or anything.”

She did achieve changing the momentum on Tuesday in a match that was played under open skies for the primary set after which under cover the remaining of the way in which after the roof was closed to offer the stadium lighting vital to proceed. Williams dominated the second set but Tan fought back within the third while Williams’s level and energy dipped even when her fighting spirit didn’t.

Though she saved a match point on her serve late within the final set and jumped out to a 4-0 lead within the super tiebreaker, which is latest at Wimbledon this yr, she couldn’t hold on, missing too many crucial shots, including a forehand into the web on Tan’s second match point.

“I believe physically I did pretty good,” Williams said. “I believe the last couple points, I used to be really suffering there, but I feel like in only those key points, winning a few of those points, is all the time something mentally that you may have to have, that you just type of need. I did pretty good on perhaps one or two of them, but obviously not enough.”

Tan’s clear-thinking poise under big-match pressure was remarkable for a player with so little experience and who was making her first appearance on Centre Court. But she said she needed to struggle inside herself to imagine that she really could defeat Williams.

“After I saw the draw I used to be really scared, since it’s Serena,” said Tan, 24. “She’s a legend, and yeah, I used to be like, ‘Oh my God, how can I play?’ If I can win one or two games, it was really good for me.”

She won two sets as an alternative, turning what might have been a feel-good story for Williams right into a narrow defeat that may repose the query of how rather more skilled tennis Williams intends to play. She is going to turn 41 in September, and her quest for a record-tying twenty fourth Grand Slam singles title seems increasingly far-fetched. A longtime No. 1, she is now ranked 1,204th and can soon don’t have any rating in any respect. But she provided no definitive answer as to if this was her final Wimbledon appearance.

“That’s a matter I can’t answer,” she said. “I don’t know. Who knows where I’ll pop up?”

But no less than she will leave the All England Club with a less painful memory than what she took from last yr’s Wimbledon, when she tore a hamstring after slipping in the primary set of her first-round match with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, hobbling off Centre Court in great distress. She didn’t play competitively again until last week when she returned to play doubles in Eastbourne, England, with Ons Jabeur. Tuesday’s match against Tan was Williams’s first singles match in a yr, and to her credit, she scrapped and hustled through the peaks and valleys.

“It was definitely long, a really long battle and fight and definitely higher than last yr,” Williams said.

It was a ragged but ultimately admirable performance as she tried to shake off the rust and solve the myriad riddles posed by Tan, who had watched Williams only from afar until their duel. “Seeing her next to me before we walked out on court was really intimidating, because she’s so imposing,” Tan said in French. “It was difficult and even at the top, once we shook hands, she was still imposing.”

“After I was young I used to be watching her so again and again on the TV,” she said in her on-court interview. “My first Wimbledon is wow!”

That Williams got here near victory was more a tribute to her willpower than her power as she didn’t dominate along with her first serve or full-cut returns and as an alternative battled her way through prolonged rallies and compromised situations within the third set, digging low for Tan’s crisply sliced shots and hustling into the corners. Williams served for the match at 5-4 and was two points from victory at 30-15 only to lose the subsequent three points and her serve when she hit an unconvincing forehand approach shot that Tan slapped past her for a backhand winner.

Williams and her player box filled with family, friends and team members, including her latest coach Eric Hechtman, weren’t in a position to have a good time. She fought off a match point when serving at 5-6, 30-40 with a forehand volley winner. She then needed to navigate the tiebreaker despite the weariness in her legs and the strain in her gaze. She jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Tan reeled off the subsequent five points by keeping Williams off balance.

Tan, coached by the 1998 Wimbledon finalist Nathalie Tauziat, lacks pure power and has a puffball second serve, but she understands tennis geometry and has an unconventional tool set that’s well suited to grass. She also had a very good scouting report: Tauziat is 54 and long retired but she faced Williams 3 times in singles, defeating her in the ultimate of an indoor tournament in Paris in 2000 on a quick, low-bouncing surface. Tauziat understood the importance of keeping Williams out of her prime hitting zones and of keeping her on the move.

“Thanks, Nathalie,” Tan said in her on-court interview, looking toward Tauziat within the player box.

From the beginning, Tan had Williams guessing and stretching, mixing often-exquisite drop shots with forays to the web; towering lobs with counterpunched backhand passing shots; sideswiping forehand slices with looped topspin.

“Some other opponent probably would have suited my game higher,” said Williams, who was rarely in a position to settle into power-baseline duels or any particular pattern of play for long.

Nobody but Tan knew what was coming. Williams, who has lost to such variety-loving players even in her prime, often looked befuddled within the early going. She also looked as tight as piano wire, struggling to let her natural power flow and missing swing volleys and approach shots by the bunch while laboring to maneuver laterally.

That was actually comprehensible in light of her long layoff, and the group reacted with awkward silence at first. The grand tennis theater where Williams has experienced so many highs and a number of lows through the a long time was nearly half empty firstly but because the match became a marathon, it was stuffed with support and emotion as Williams tried to avoid only the third first-round exit of her profession in a Grand Slam tournament.

She couldn’t quite manage it, despite all her evident desire, and there is probably not many more major tournaments to come back, although Williams didn’t rule out a return to the U.S. Open, where she won her first Grand Slam singles title in 1999 at age 17.

“Your first time is all the time special,” she said, speaking slowly and softly. “There’s definitely, , a number of motivation to improve and to play at home.”

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