Almost a year after her last appearance, Serena Williams did not make a successful comeback. The US-American fought for three hours in a thrilling duel, but was beaten in the end by a razor-thin margin in the match tie-break.

Williams made her comeback to the tennis circuit last week after 357 days. The 40-year-old, who had been forced to take a month-long break due to a tear in her hamstring, was given a wild card to compete at Wimbledon.

There, the 23-time Grand Slam winner faced Frenchwoman Harmony Tan, ranked 115 in the world, in the first round on Centre Court. Williams’ competitiveness was eagerly awaited – and the US-American was already challenged in the first set.

Game two as a turning point

Long, great rallies were followed by a series of easy errors on both sides, but Williams was able to build up a seemingly commanding 4:2 lead. But then the errors started to pile up and at the end of the set, the 40-year-old had 22 unforced errors. Tan, on the other hand, played more steadily and surprisingly won the first set 7-5.

Williams had to improve – and she did. The second set, which began after an eight-minute interruption because the roof was closed, remained competitive. But game two was to serve as a turning point: It went back to 40:40 a total of twelve times there, until Williams finally made it 2:0 after a quarter of an hour of play – and dominated the set from then on. Tan did not manage much more, her opponent was especially convincing on her first serve, she won 80 percent of the balls and provoked the deciding set with a clear 6:1.

Tan does not give up – match tie-break decides the match

Of course, Williams entered the match with more self-confidence and managed to break 3:1 early on. Everything now pointed to a win for the seven-time Wimbledon champion, but Tan fought back with self-sacrifice and offered the many spectators on Centre Court an entertaining evening programme. Especially when the 24-year-old broke with a strong cross-court shot to make it 3-3 and the final of the match came to a head.

It went back and forth, Tan did not give up, but then found herself with her back to the wall: Williams managed a great stop in the service game of the Frenchwoman, which she celebrated on her knees and which would bring her the break to 5:4 a little later. But that was just another episode in the three-hour exchange, as Tan managed to break back.

Physically, Williams looked well past her peak, but still dragged herself into the match tie-break, which goes to 10. She started strongly, quickly led 4:0 – and then collapsed. After 3:11 hours, Tan finally threw up her arms and Williams was defeated 5:7, 6:1, 6:7 (7:10).

This means she will miss her 99th victory at Wimbledon. Harmony Tan will meet Sara Sorribes Tormo, ranked 45th in the world, in round two.