Williams, watched on by her family in the stands, lost a tight first set before leveling the match in the second on Centre Court, the site of seven of her 23 grand slam singles titles.
She was a break up in the third, but Tan showed her resilience by fighting back to take a thrilling final set in a tense tie break.
“When I saw the draw, I was really scared,” Tan said after the match. “It’s Serena Williams — she’s a legend. I was like, ‘Oh my god, how can I play?’ And if I can win one game or two games, it’s really good for me.”
She comfortably did more than that on what was her first Wimbledon appearance and ninth match at a grand slam.
Momentum had shifted between the two players over the course of the three-hour, 10-minute match — first in Tan’s favor as she edged the first set, then towards Williams as she rallied in the second.
It looked as if the 40-year-old Williams, playing her first singles match since last year’s Wimbledon, would prevail in the deciding set as she served for the win.
But the memorable return wasn’t to be. Tan broke back at 5-5, and despite failing to convert a match point at 6-5, made no mistake when she had a second chance in the tie break.
“For my first Wimbledon — it’s wow. Just wow,” she said, struggling to find the words to capture her emotions.
Williams played her first competitive matches for close to a year at Eastbourne last week, partnering with Ons Jabeur in the doubles event. The pair reached the semifinals, but had to withdraw after Jabeur sustained a knee injury.
More to follow…