Wimbledon | Tan takes out Serena in stunning skirmish

It should come as no surprise that unseeded 40-year old Serena Williams lost in the 1st-round of The Championships at Wimbledon on Tuesday at the hands of a little-known Frenchwoman, Harmony Tan, but it was the incredible fight that the American produced going down which impressed.

I feel really tired now, but really happy. I play every ball, like, just, put some slice, some change, some variety on the game, and it works today. Harmony Tan

“I don’t know what to say,” said Tan, on the verge of tears. “I have watched [her] so many times on TV. For my first Wimbledon it is ‘wow’, just ‘wow!’ ”

Like a caged tiger, Williams had prowled, scrapped, growled and roared her way through the 3 hour 11 minute battle as she tried to rip the slice-and-dice game she faced into submission, but it was not to be, and Tan pulled off a stunning come-back win, 7-5 1-6 7-6(7).

Tan, ranked 113th in the world, was making her Wimbledon main draw debut, while Williams has been coming to Wimbledon since 1998, when her opponent was still a babe in arms, reaching 11 finals and winning 7 of them.

Williams, though, had not played a singles match since limping out of Wimbledon in the 1st-round last year, after just 7 games, and, in the interim, women’s tennis has upped its game as a new generation of players has emerged to grab the headlines.

Even the lowly-ranked Tan has steely mettle within, determined to make the grade, while being out-of-sight has put Williams out-of-mind, serving to take the edge off the 23 Grand Slam singles champion’s aura, whose ranking has fallen to 1,204, so that she needed a wild-card to enter Wimbledon.

Indeed, many haven’t seen or played her of late, absent from the tour as she has been, while others no longer fear her, but Tan did.

“She’s a superstar,” gasped Tan afterwards. “When I saw the draw I was really scared. She’s a legend.

“I was like ‘oh my god, how can I play?’. If I can win one game or two games, it would be really good for me. For my first Wimbledon, it’s…. wow. Just wow!”

Tan briefly broke into the top 100 earlier this year to reach a career high of 90, and has as her coach Nathalie Tauziat, runner-up to Jana Novotna here in 1998, which was the year Williams reached the 3rd-round as a 16-year-old debutante while Harmony was 9 months old.

“My coach, Nathalie Tauziat, played her 20 years ago,” Tan said. “She just told me, enjoy, because it’s your first time in Wimbledon, You play on Centre Court against Serena. Just enjoy the match.”


Harmony Tan (R) shakes hands with Serena Williams after winning their 1st-round match on Centre Court late on Tuesday

© Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

The 24-year old Frenchwoman went into the encounter with a clear game plan in mind, a lamb heading to the slaughter against an opponent bristling with muscle and a destiny of her own to fulfil.

Tan’s first few limp slices drew gasps as she swiftly joined the short list of those who have broken the formidable Williams serve, and then held her own opening delivery with a spot of serve and volleying to lead 2-0.

Williams began to get the hang of the slicing well enough to snap up the next 4 games, her power and precision at times taking the racket out of Tan’s hand.

Undaunted, though, Tan held her own in the see-saw first set, even as Williams appeared to have taken control, and she pulled her way back, finishing off a series of slices with a forehand winner to break for 6-5, before a forehand pass in the next game gave her a one-set lead.

The landscape changed in the second as the Centre Court roof was closed and the lights came on, and Williams threw in a love hold before prevailing on her 7th break point of a gruelling 19-minute game to lead 2-0.

The American fended off 4 break points in the next game to consolidate for 3-0, then found sterling service returns from there to sweep through the rest of that set, shutting it out with an ace.


Harmony Tan used slices and dinks to get past Serena Williams on Tuesday night

© Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

A lengthy bathroom break for Tan did not turn the momentum and, as the match entered its 3rd hour, Williams secured a crucial-looking early break.

The drama had barely started, though, and from 1-3 down Tan raised her level again, prompting Williams to notch up a further gutsy break for 5-4, raising her arms aloft and screaming as if she had just won the Venus Rosewater Dish for an 8th time.

It was a short-lived celebration as the Frenchwoman passed her to break back for 5-5, and went on to hold her first match point at 6-5, which Williams swatted away with a put-away winner and, as Wimbledon’s 11 pm curfew loomed, they battled towards a match tiebreak.

Booming groundstrokes gave Williams a 4-0 lead in the breaker, and it looked as if Tan’s chances had faded, but she levelled the tussle to reach 6-6, while a forehand winner gave the Frenchwoman a key 8-6 lead, and she earned a 2nd match point at 9-7 after a Williams forehand miscue, which Tan converted and celebrated her first Wimbledon win.

The Frenchwoman, who has never progressed beyond the 2nd-round of a Grand Slam, was at a loss to describe how she managed to turn the match in her favour.

“I feel really tired now, but really happy,” Tan said. “I play every ball, like, just, put some slice, some change, some variety on the game, and it works today.”


Serena Williams put up a great fight but went down to Harmony Tan, ending hopes of another title at Wimbledon

© Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

Despite all the experience of her 111 previous singles matches at the All England Club, Williams could not avert this defeat and remains one major title shy of the all-time record of 24, still held by Margaret Court.

No doubt there will be questions about her future following this gruelling defeat.

“It was definitely a very long battle and fight,” Williams said in her post-match press conference. “It’s definitely better than last year, that’s a start.

“I think physically I did pretty good. … I feel like in just those key points, winning some of those points, is always something mentally that you have to have, that you kind of need.

“I did pretty good on, maybe, one or two of ’em, but obviously not enough.

“Today I gave all I could do, you know, today. Maybe tomorrow I could have gave more. Maybe a week ago I could have gave more. But today was what I could do.

“At some point you have to be able to be okay with that. And that’s all I can do.”

It was only her 3rd 1st-round loss at a Grand Slam event in her legendary career, and her win-loss record at Wimbledon now stands at a staggering 98-14.

The American came into her press conference wearing a shirt that read, ‘Be a game changer’  and, when asked what it meant, she said: “Just don’t be afraid to be different. Don’t be afraid to stand out…That’s been me.

“I love changing the game. I think that’s something that I never kind of set out to do, and then somehow I did it. Somehow I’m Serena. That’s pretty awesome.”

Meanwhile, up next for Tan is No 32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo from Spain, who breezed past American qualifier Christina McHale, 6-2 6-1, earlier on Tuesday.


Serena Williams speaks at her post match press conference after being beaten by Harmony Tan on Tuesday night

© Joe Toth/AFP via Getty Images

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