Serena Williams on Tuesday tasted bitter defeat on her return to singles tennis at Wimbledon, as Rafael Nadal overcame a huge scare to progress to the second round.
Elsewhere on day two of the Championships, title contender Matteo Berrettini was forced to pull out with COVID-19, while women’s top seed Iga Swiatek extended her winning streak to 36 matches.
Seven-time champion Williams went down to unseeded Harmony Tan of France 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10/7) in her first singles encounter since an injury forced her out of her first-round match at Wimbledon last year.
Williams, 40, won the last of her Wimbledon singles titles six years ago, but reached the final in 2018 and 2019.
“I’m so emotional now,” Tan said. “She’s a superstar. When I was young, I was watching her so many times on the TV. For my first Wimbledon it’s wow — just wow.”
“When I saw the draw, I was really scared. She’s such a legend. I thought if I can win one game, two games, that would be really good for me,” Tan said.
Williams was far below her imperious best on Tuesday, struggling from the start with her form and fitness.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, cheered by the crowd as she made her entrance, lost the first set, but broke early in the second set and went on to level the match.
However, she faltered while serving and faded badly in the third-set tiebreak after taking a 4-0 lead.
She finished with 61 winners, but 54 unforced errors in the 3-hour, 11-minute evening match.
Earlier, an off-key Nadal, already halfway to a calendar Grand Slam after winning the Australian Open and French Open, dug deep to beat Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
The two-time Wimbledon champion, who has not played at the tournament since 2019, thanked the crowd for their wholehearted support.
“It’s not a surface that we play very often, and especially in my case, for different reasons, the past three years I didn’t put any foot on a grass court, so it always takes a while,” 36-year-old Nadal said. “It was my first match and as I know, every day is a test, and today was one of these important tests.”
The Spaniard appeared to be coasting to victory when he took a two-set lead, but his Argentine opponent found a new level, winning the third set and going a break up early in the fourth.
However, from 4-2 down the second seed found an extra gear, winning the next four games to seal the match in 3 hours, 33 minutes, roared on by the Centre Court crowd.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion played the entire French Open with his troublesome left foot anesthetized, but he has received treatment since then and was moving well on Tuesday.
Men’s fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Swiss qualifier Alexander Ritschard 7-6 (7/1), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
In the women’s singles, Beaten French Open finalist Coco Gauff recovered from losing the first set against Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse to win 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.
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