Serena Williams, Closer to the End Than the Middle, Still Believes

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“Great that she’s trying to come back,” said Nadal, who has 22 Grand Slam singles titles, one fewer than Williams.

Like Williams, he has battled back from potentially career-ending injuries of late. He is nearly five years younger than Williams, but is one of the few people who can understand what is going through Williams’s heart and mind.

“The only thing that shows is passion and love for the game,” Nadal said of her comeback attempt. “Just being here shows that she has a lot of love for her work and for this game. And I think that’s a great example.”

There were flashbacks on Tuesday. Williams surged to an early lead in the deciding set, then minutes later, she was fighting, down a game, though on serve, against the 115th-ranked player in the world, a 24-year-old who grew up watching her on television. Williams even served for the match after more than two and a half hours on the court, at 5-4. Serving comes from the legs, and Williams’s legs had lost their power. She sprayed errors wide and into the net, suddenly unable to handle Tan’s slicing strokes.

She would save a match point on her serve two games later with a classic swinging forehand volley as she charged the net. But in the tiebreaker, she frittered away prosperity once more, allowing a 4-0 lead to become a 9-7 deficit. Then came one last forehand into the net at the 3-hour, 11-minute mark.

Williams packed up her bags, waved to the crowd, and then, in an interview room a little while later, said the idea of playing in New York at the U.S. Open later in the summer, after some time on the practice courts, carried plenty of appeal. She, at least, still believes. Retirement, for now, did not come up.