Her return to Grand Slam action at Wimbledon on Tuesday – a three-hour, 11-minute brawl with France’s Harmony Tan – was theatrical, thrilling, but ultimately ended in defeat.

In the longest women’s singles match to date, Tan, ranked No. 115 in the world and making her first Wimbledon appearance, let alone on the main center court stage, kept her cool in the deciding super tie break. to win. 7-5 1-6 7-6 (10-7).

It was clearly not the most vintage performance of Williams’ illustrious career, and it was never going to give him time away from the game.

But as the roof closed and the lights came on on center court – a scene that caused oohs and ahs from those watching – the two players put on a show that over- delivered the drama.

In the end, it was Tan who crushed Williams’ comeback night, repeatedly producing shots that even earned applause from his opponent on the other side of the net.

“For my first Wimbledon – it’s wow. Just wow,” Tan said, at a loss for words, during his on-court interview.

Few present could disagree.

As for Williams, who turned 40 last September, she refuses to give up her pursuit of a record 24th Grand Slam title, five years after winning her last at the Australian Open.

“Who knows where I’m going to appear,” she told reporters when asked about her future, even suggesting a US Open appearance could be on the cards later this year.

“The US Open – it’s the first place I won a Grand Slam – is always something very special,” added Williams. “Your first time is always special. There is definitely a lot of motivation to improve and play at home.”

Rust was to be expected in Williams’ return to Wimbledon and it took time for her to find some rhythm against Tan. Before Tuesday, his only competitive outing in the past year had been two doubles matches at Eastbourne last week.

She was broken in the first game, but by the fourth she had started to find her feet – hitting her groundstrokes more cleanly as she fought back with a double break from Tan’s serve.

Tan deployed a variety of shots in her three-set victory over Serena Williams.

The first set, however, proved to be telling of the match as a whole: just as Williams seemed to have the upper hand over his opponent, Tan would come back in contention.

This was the case several times in the final set as Williams twice led by a break and then quickly took the lead in the decisive super tie break, only for Tan to take 10 of the next 13 points and claim the biggest win ever. she. career.

Tuesday’s game was a clear contrast in styles. Williams’ attacking display was hit or miss as she landed 61 winners – a mix of hard-hitting groundstrokes and softly slapped practice volleys – interspersed with 54 unforced errors.

Tan, on the other hand, was more conservative and relied heavily on her slice to move Williams down the court – a tactic the American later admitted took her by surprise.

“I think I could have played anyone, [it] probably would have had a different result,” she said. “I knew there was a lot of slicing, but not so much on the forehand. I absolutely had to try to find my rhythm there. You know, hindsight is 20/20.”

The silver lining for Williams, who retired against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round of Wimbledon last year after slipping and injuring her leg, is that her body held up well against Tan.

“Physically I was fine,” she added. “Last points, I really started to feel it. But I move well, I get a lot of balls back. I move well in training.

“It wasn’t surprising to me because I knew I was doing it well. I didn’t train for, you know, a three-hour game. I guess that’s where I went wrong.”

It's unclear when and where we'll see Serena Williams on the tennis court.

Ahead of Wimbledon, Williams reflected on how tennis is no longer her only focus in life. Off the pitch, motherhood, her venture capital firm and the release of the movie King Richard, which she helped produce, all occupied her time.

“Honestly, it was totally different. Part of me feels like it’s a bit more of my life now than tournaments,” she said last week.

But that doesn’t mean Williams is totally ready to say goodbye to tennis – although she remains undecided on when and where to make her next appearance.

And if anything, the loss to Tan made the fires of tennis a little brighter.

“It definitely makes me want to go to the training grounds,” she said, “because when you’re playing a lot and you’re so close…it’s actually kind of like, ‘D ‘Okay, Serena, you can do it if you want.'”

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