London: Seven-time champion Serena Williams suffered a second straight Wimbledon first-round exit as she was stunned by French debutant Harmony Tan in a late-night Centre Court epic on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST).
A year after the American retired injured from what many feared would be her last Wimbledon match, her return was eagerly anticipated but 115th-ranked Tan ripped up the script for a stomach-churning 7-5 1-6 7-6 (10-7) win.
With the Centre Court roof closed and the time approaching the 11pm Wimbledon curfew, Tan had one match point snatched away when Williams served at 5-6 in a rollercoaster deciding set.
A weary Williams then appeared to be close to victory as she went 4-0 ahead in the tie-breaker played to 10.
But Tan, who had never played a Wimbledon main draw match before, was not finished and clawed her way into a 9-7 lead before sealing victory as Williams netted a forehand.
Williams, who had not played a singles match since retiring hurt against Aliaksandra Sasnovich at SW19 last year, went through every emotion in three hours and 11 minutes of drama and put her fans through the wringer.
Serena Williams farewells the Centre Court crowd following her three-set loss to Harmony Tan.Credit:AP
But in the end the rustiness of so much time away from the court proved too much as another quest for a 24th major title came to a heartbreaking end.
Tan, who had only ever won two grand slam main draw matches compared to the 98 won at Wimbledon alone by Williams, could hardly believe it after clinching victory on her second match point when Williams fired a forehand into the net.
“I’m so emotional now. Serena is a superstar and when I was young I was watching her so many times on the TV,” the 24-year-old said on court. “For my first Wimbledon, it’s wow. Just wow.
“When I saw the draw I was really scared. Because it’s Serena Williams, she’s a legend. I thought if I could win one or two games it was really good for me.”
Watch all the action from Wimbledon ad-free, live & on demand on Stan Sport, with matches streaming in 4K UHD. Coverage of select matches commences on 9GEM from 7.30pm AEST each night.
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