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Serena Williams Brushes Aside Retirement Talks, But for How Long?

Serena Willams, back on court for her first singles match after a gap of a year, lost 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 to the unseeded Harmony Tan in the opening round of the Wimbledon.
Serene Williams vs Harmony Tan at Wimbledon

Serena Williams in action against Harmony Tan during their Wimbledon singles match on Tuesday.

A certain degree of uneasiness envelopes us when we see a great champion struggle on court, presenting a pale shadow of her best. If that comes at a hallowed venue where she had previously conquered many historic victories, the pain multiplies. Serena Williams was rusty at the All England Club Centre Court. She was many notches below the form that saw her win 23 Grand Slams. And she lost….

For the record, Williams had not played a singles match for 364 days before she stepped out to face the challenge from Harmony Tan of France, ranked 115th in the world. Tan outlasted Williams 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7). It was, at 3 hours and 11 minutes, the American’s longest match at Wimbledon in a decade. 

The fact that Williams, by virtue of her absence from the WTA Tour, was ranked outside of the top 1,000 in the world, doesn’t justify the result. Tan is simply not in the league of Williams. And the result makes us wonder why WIlliams rushed her comeback. 

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Prior to the tournament, she had spoken -- or rather hinted -- at how she is not coming back just to play a tournament or two. She wanted it to last. She was in it to win as well. Being the professional that she is, Williams would have understood where she stands physically and game wise. And she would have known winning, or even progressing into the latter stages of the tournament, would have been impossible for her. 

That makes us wonder if there was more to it. Maybe sponsors were keen on it. It so happens that Williams’ presence at Wimbledon took a fair bit of attention away from the bad PR the All England Club received after denying entry to Russian and Belarus players at this year’s tournament. Her three hours on court, however, managed to just saddened the fans across the world.

Williams looked rusty right from the opening exchanges of the evening match at Centre Court. She was broken in her first service game. Clearly below her best on all accounts -- from fitness to sharpness in the strokes -- Williams broke back in the fourth game to level at 2-2. Further breaks happened and Tan broke again in the 11th game and closed out the set 7-5.

Williams broke after a long second game of the second set. Then she wrested the momentum  to level the match 6-1. She was also the first to break in the decider but Tan levelled at 3-3. Williams broke again in the ninth game but faltered as she served for the match.

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Williams, looking out of breath, was running on fumes at this point and could not stop Tan from closing out the match. She scored 61 winners but 54 unforced errors in the match. 

Despite the ominous signs, Williams refused to consider retirement.

“That’s a question I can’t answer. Who knows? Who knows where I’ll pop up,” she said when asked about whether this would be her last singles match.

She is “obviously not” OK with this being her last Wimbledon memory. “You know me. Definitely not,” she said, not discounting an appearance at the US Open this year.

“That being the first place I’ve won a Grand Slam [in 1999], is something that’s always super special. … There’s definitely lots of motivation to get better and to play at home,” she said.

“If you’re playing week in, week out, or even every three weeks, every four weeks, there’s a little bit more match toughness,” Williams added. “You’ve got to think if I were playing matches, I wouldn’t miss some of those points, or this match.”

Williams said that the loss, on the contrary, has given her confidence that she can “do it”.

“It definitely makes me want to hit the practice courts because … you’re playing not bad, and you’re so close,” Williams said. “It’s actually kind of like, OK, Serena, you can do this if you want.”

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