Serena Williams has been knocked out in the first round at Wimbledon, further imperilling her chances of equalling Margaret Court’s all-time grand slam singles record.
The great American champion was shocked by little-known Harmony Tan, a 24-year-old Frenchwoman ranked 113th in the world.
Tan was making her Wimbledon main-draw debut. Williams has been coming to Wimbledon since 1998, when her opponent was still a babe in arms, reaching 11 finals and winning seven of them.
But you would never have known this from the contest as Tan rose to the occasion, beating Williams 7-5 1-6 7-6 (10-7).
Tan, on the verge of tears, said :”I don’t know what to say. I have watched so many times on TV. For my first Wimbledon it is ‘wow’, just ‘wow’.”
“When I saw the draw I was really scared – Serena, she’s a legend. I was like, ‘oh my God! How can I play? I can win maybe one or two games.”
The loss leaves Williams still one major short of matching Australian Court’s record 24 grand slam titles and, turning 41 in September, running out of opportunities.
Having not played a singles match since being forced to retire with a torn hamstring in the first round last year, and only two doubles matches with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne last week, Williams was inevitably rusty.
It was no surprise when she lost the first two games to Tan, but nor was it when she won the next four.
Then the plot twisted. Tan broke back and held to be 4-4, then broke again at 5-5 before serving out to claim the set.
Tan had game point on Williams’ serve at the start of the second set, but the seven-times champion held.
That enabled the veteran to put the pressure back on Tan. Her first service game of the second set lasted 19 seconds shy of 20 minutes, and at the end of it Williams had broken for a 2-0 lead.
She grabbed the momentum that established and ran with it all the way to take the stanza 6-1.
Surely now she would romp to victory? It looked like it as, to the delight of an adoring centre-court crowd, she raced into a 3-1 lead in the decider. But Tan was resilient. Breaking back she went into a 4-3 lead.
But Williams broke again to be 5-4 ahead, and serving.
Tan came back, breaking again, then holding to force Williams to serve to stay in the championships.
It went to 30-30, then a wayward volley handed Tan match point. To roars of delight Williams saved it before taking the match into a tiebreak as the match clock ticked beyond three hours.
Williams raced into a 4-0 lead, but Tan simply would go away fighting back to lead 5-4.
Williams fought back and the tie ebbed and flowed before suddenly Tan had another match point. This time, with a rasping forehand, she took it.
Meanwhile, Iga Swiatek is playing down comparisons with Serena and Venus Williams after sweeping into the Wimbledon second round and extending her winning streak to the longest of the 21st century.
As Serena dramatically crashed out, the Polish phenom swiftly carried on where Ash Barty left off, delivering a clinic on Wimbledon’s centre court to blow off Croatian Jana Fett 6-0 6-3 in an ominous opener.
Taking the traditional Tuesday centre-court opening spot reserved for the previous year’s ladies champion, Swiatek also assumed the honour of filling in for the now-retired Barty in superb, record-breaking style.
The world No.1’s 36th win in a row is the most by any female player this century after eclipsing the 22-year-old record of 35 she’d shared with Venus.
Serena owns 23 grand slam crowns but her longest winning streak is a mere 34 in 2013.
“Still when I see Serena or see Venus, they seem like… the legends,” Swiatek said.
“I don’t consider myself a legend. They seem like the ones, they’re the greatest of all time in tennis.”
But riding the longest women’s streak since Martina Hingis won 37 matches in a row in 1997, even Swiatek considers her consistency across the three surfaces “amazing”.
“It just shows how much work we’ve been putting (in) for every match,” the 21-year-old said.
“I’m pretty happy that I could show consistency because it was always my goal.
“I didn’t know it’s going to be possible for me to show that much consistency, and actually to win tournaments. But I’m just really happy and I’m trying to use it the best way possible.”
The top seed reckoned it had been a privilege to be given the Barty role following the Queenslander’s retirement in March and she certainly looked immediately at home on the court which the Australian had owned last year in her final triumph over Karolina Pliskova.
Swiatek took 33 minutes to hand the Croatian a 33-minute ‘bagel’ in the opening set in her first match since winning the French Open at Roland Garros.
Fett did at least briefly threaten a comeback as she led 3-1 before Swiatek escaped the tricky situation and rattled off five games in a row to continue the streak that has stretched back to February, even before Barty had announced her shock retirement.
Seven-time champion Serena’s shock 7-5 1-6 7-6 (10-7) first-round loss to Frenchwoman Harmony Tan further underlined Swiatek’s status as undoubtedly the woman to beat.
The 21-year-old is chasing a seventh successive title after landing trophies in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome and of course Paris.
Fourth seed Paula Badosa, fifth seed Maria Sakkari, French Open runner-up Coco Gauff and former champions Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova also all progressed.
Badosa powered past American qualifier Louisa Chirico 6-2 6-1, while Sakkari eliminated Australian qualifier Zoe Hives 6-1 6-4.
Gauff, seeded 11th, advanced with a 2-6 6-3 7-5 win over Romanian Elena-Gabriela Ruse.
Halep outclassed Karolina Muchova 6-3 6-2 and Kvitova, fresh off her title-winning run at Eastbourne, opened her bid for a third Wimbledon crown with a 2-6 6-4 6-2 victory over Jasmine Paolini.
Barbora Krejcikova, who won the French Open in 2021 to split Swiatek’s two titles in Paris, also moved on with a 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win over Maryna Zanevska.