In the longest-running women’s singles draw to date, Tan ranked 115th in the world and made her debut at Wimbledon, not to mention the main stage on Center Court, nerve-wracking in the crucial break for victory. 7-5 1-6 7-6 (10-7).
This clearly wasn’t the most rock-solid performance in Williams’ illustrious career, and she won’t be given time away from the game.
But when the roof was closed and the lights turned on in the central court – a sight that impressed viewers – the two players put on a dramatic show.
In the end, it was Tan that broke Williams’ comeback party, and on several occasions produced shots that won applause from her opponent on the other side of the net.
“In my first Wimbledon – it’s fantastic. Just fantastic,” said Tan, who lost her words in her on-court interview.
Few of the attendees could disagree.
Williams, who turned 40 last September, is refusing to give up her quest for her 24th Grand Slam title, five years after winning her last Australian Open title.
“Who knows where I’ll appear,” she told reporters when asked about her future, even suggesting that an appearance at the US Open might be on the table later this year.
“The US Open – which was my first place to win a major – is always something very special,” Williams added. “Your first time is always special. There is definitely a lot of motivation to get better and play at home.”
Rust was expected during Williams’ return to Wimbledon, and it took her time to find some rhythm against Tan. Prior to Tuesday, her only competitive descent over the past year had been two doubles matches at Eastbourne last week.
She was smashed in the first half, but by four she was starting to find her feet – her groundstrokes hit much cleaner when she responded with a double break from Tan’s serve.
However, the first set proved to be indicative of the match as a whole: Just as Williams seemed to have the upper hand over her opponent, Tan was making her way back into the competition.
This was the case on several occasions in the final set as Williams had twice lead in the first half and then raced into an early lead in the crucial tiebreaker, only to Tan to win 10 of the next 13 points and take her biggest win. Career path career path.
Tuesday’s game was a distinct contrast of styles. Williams’ offensive showing was a loser as she landed 61 winners – a combination of powerful ground kicks and fast driving strokes – punctuated by 54 non-forced fouls.
Tan, on the other hand, was more conservative and relied heavily on her chip to move Williams around the court – a tactic the American later admitted took her by surprise.
“I think I could have played anyone, [it] “Maybe the result was different,” she said. I definitely had to try to find my rhythm there. You know, hindsight is 20/20.”
The upshot for Williams, who retired against Aleksandra Sasnovich in the first round of Wimbledon last year after slipping and injuring her leg, was that her body held up well against a tan.
“Physically I was fine,” she added. “The last two points I’m really starting to feel. But I’m moving well, getting a lot of balls back. I’m moving really well in practice.
“It wasn’t surprising to me because I knew I was doing well. I didn’t train for a three-hour match, you know. I think that’s where I went wrong.”
Before Wimbledon, Williams pondered how tennis was no longer her only focus in life. Off the field, motherhood, her business, and the release of the King Richard movie, which she helped produce, occupied her time.
She said last week, “It’s been completely different, honestly. I feel like a part of me is a part of my life now that’s a little bit more heroic.”
But that doesn’t mean Williams is quite ready to say goodbye to tennis – even if she remains hesitant about when and where her next appearance will be.
And if anything, the defeat to Tan made the tennis fires even brighter.
She said, “It definitely makes me want to get to the training grounds, because when you’re not playing badly and you’re so close… it’s actually kind of like, ‘Okay, Serena, you can do that if you want to.'”