Serena Williams exited the Centre Court on Tuesday night with a wistful grin and a heartfelt wave—possibly her last.
If this was her last time visiting Wimbledon, she at least left with the imprint of a stellar matchup versus a poised and young foe.
The 113th-ranked player in the world from Paris, Harmony Tan, admitted that she was nervous after seeing her first-round draw, but she overcame it with extraordinary poise to overcome Williams 7-5, 1-6, 7-6.
She was down 0-4 going into the new super tie-break that would decide the match, but she came back to win it 10-7. With more than three hours remaining, the American, who is now in her fifth decade, was unable to push her aging physique over the finish line.
Everyone could see that the fire was still there, but even she was unable to make up for the fact that she had not played for a year prior to today.
Williams nevertheless came close to achieving her goal. After losing her debut match in six games in 2021, she wanted to forget about that experience, and she succeeded in doing so.
Afterwards, she was non-committal about her future when asked: ‘That’s a question I can’t answer,’ she replied.
‘I’m just playing for right now and seeing how I feel, take it from there. Who knows where I will pop? There’s definitely lots of motivation to play better and at home (the US Open).
‘Physically, I did pretty good. The last couple of points I was really suffering. If you are playing a week in week out, there’s a bit more match toughness.’
After that, she might decide to prioritize her family, husband, venture capital firm, Oscars events, and a variety of other hobbies.
Or maybe not, since you don’t think anything could ever equal the frenzied intensity of the bouts like this that have peppered her career.
Williams played the lead, as she has so many times before, and the clash of styles lit up the vast old arena, as with most events in her life, it was never dull or predictable.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion appeared to be attacking her opponent’s stiletto with a baseball bat.
When the American started her fightback, the strikes were frequently accompanied by determined yells and groans, which were heightened when the roof was closed after the first set. Even at 40, the American can conjure tremendous power.
Williams still possesses a star quality all her own in an era when several of the women’s top 10 could stroll down Wimbledon High Street without worrying about being recognized.
Tan has a wonderful game to watch that evokes a bygone era, yet she could probably saunter unbothered down the Champs Elysees.
When coupled with the incredible maturity she showed under duress, it turned out to be just enough.
Williams had the opportunity to end the match in her sleep when she served for it, with the score tied at 5-4 in the third.
She had a match point at 5-6 after wildly missing a simple volley, but she saved it with another flourish at the net as the errors started to creep back in.
She might have won it with more match preparation, but her fluid movement disproved the idea that she was unprepared.
One seasoned coach speculated that because of her ball striking’s cleanliness, she must have been in proper training for some time after watching her first practice on the south coast.
Playing just two double matches in Sussex before moving to SW19 may not have been as calculated a risk as first thought.
Williams’ endurance would be put to the test after a slow and inconsistent start. Before the American finally won it on a seventh break opportunity, the first set took 64 minutes to complete and the second game in the next set took just under 20 minutes and 30 points.
When switching from daylight to illumination, experience is helpful, and the more self-assured Williams started to fly through the routine.
Before the final, Tan took a six-minute bathroom break to gather her thoughts and give Williams a chance to slow down. She remained calm during the breathless denouement.