Serena Williams addresses future plans following first round Wimbledon exit to Harmony Tan

Serena Williams exited Wimbledon 2022 in the first round, falling to defeat against Harmony Tan.

If that is the last we see of Serena Williams on Centre Court at Wimbledon then it was a far more fitting exit than her tearful retirement 12 months ago.

The greatest of all time lost to Harmony Tan in one of the most dramatic first-round encounters SW19 has ever seen.

Playing her first singles match since she withdrew with a freak ankle injury six games into her clash with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Williams and her French opponent did battle over three hours and 11 minutes, eventually split by a championship tie-break that swung in favour of the underdog.

Prior to her campaign here, Williams admitted that she did not know if she would return. In the immediate aftermath of the 7-5 1-6 7-6 [10-7] defeat, she was no closer to making that decision.

“I’m just planning for right now and seeing how I feel,” she replied when asked about her future.

Serena Williams has won the women’s singles title on seven occasions in the past

With the exception of that Sasnovich retirement, Williams’ only other first-round defeat at a Slam also came against another unheralded Frenchwoman, Virginie Razzano at the 2012 French Open.

The response to that disappointment was an exceptional run of nine Grand Slam successes at the next 13 attempts. At 40 and five years removed from her most recent crown, even the most die-hard Serena fans know that even one more Slam would be unlikely.

Three times here she had the match in her grasp, three times Tan fought her way back into it, one pinpoint drop shot at a time.

The 24-year-old Wimbledon debutant does not possess the same weapons as Williams. Her first serve hovered around 100mph, the second started at 80 and dropped dramatically as the match wore on.

She makes up for it with craft, slice forehands and backhands that ensured a rusty Williams could never find her rhythm. Drop shots that forced Williams back and forth to the net far more than a player with no tennis in her legs for a year would have wanted.

In the image of her coach, former Wimbledon finalist Nathalie Tauziat, Tan just kept finding ways to throw her opponent off her game.

And yet by the latter stages of the deciding set, the seven-time champion was picking off the second serve at will.

When she raised her arm to the sky after the first break in the decider, the American must have felt that the win was in the bag. Tan broke back only for Williams to seize the initiative once more, a delightful forehand drop-shot winner followed by a celebration on her knees.

Surely this time she had done enough? Again, back came Tan, breaking back as Williams tried to serve it out, before missing a match point at 6-5.

When Williams raced into a 4-0 in the championship tie-break, she had learned her lesson. There was no exuberant celebration, no assumption that the hard part was behind her.

She was right. Tan won five points in a row, her slice as confounding at the end as it had been in breaking Williams in the first game of the match.

Harmony Tan will face Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in the second round on Thursday

The American admitted that she had been aware of the slice, but perhaps not aware enough.

She said: “I knew going into it there was a lot of slice, but not so much on the forehand.

“Any other opponent would have suited my game better.”

Physically, the fact that Williams was still going more than three hours in was remarkable. The body was starting to flag at the death as Tan finally saw it out but the fighting spirit never did.

The crowd, which has appreciated if not embraced Williams in the past, roared on her every winner, conscious that they might not see her on this stage again.

There is a bitter irony that they may finally have learned to love her just as they lost her forever.

Twas ever thus.

Wimbledon continues today, with the likes of Emma Raducanu and Andy Murray in action on Centre Court.

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