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Serena Williams’s Wimbledon Draw Could Have Been Worse

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After a year away from singles, she risked drawing the world’s No. 1, Iga Swiatek, in the first round. Instead, she will face a player ranked 113th.
In her first singles match in a year, Serena Williams could have faced one of the new leaders of the game that she once dominated. As an unseeded wild card at Wimbledon, Williams could have been drawn to play No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who has won six tournaments in a row. Or Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American who is on the verge of breaking into the top 10 and just lost to Swiatek in the French Open final. But when Friday’s draw was done, Williams was spared an established threat in the first round. Instead, she will play Harmony Tan, an unseeded French 24-year-old who is ranked 113th and will be making her main-draw debut at Wimbledon. The match will almost certainly be played on Centre Court, where Williams has won seven Wimbledon singles titles, six women’s doubles titles and two Olympic gold medals when the All England Club staged the tennis event at the 2012 London Games. But though Tan will be stepping on to that famous patch of grass for the first time, Williams will also be in new territory. At age 40, she remains arguably the biggest star in women’s tennis (Naomi Osaka makes it a debate), but Williams has played very little tennis in the last three years and played none at all on tour for nearly a year until returning in Eastbourne this week for two doubles matches with Ons Jabeur. They won them both before Jabeur withdrew with a right knee injury as a precautionary move before Wimbledon, where unlike Williams, Jabeur is one of the leading favorites for the title despite never reaching a Grand Slam final. That is a reflection of Jabeur’s shotmaking talent and recent victory at the grass court tournament in Berlin, but it is also a reminder that the women’s game is in transition. The reigning Wimbledon women’s champion, Ashleigh Barty, sent shock waves through the sport by retiring in March at age 25, weary of the travel far from her home in Australia and lacking the drive to continue pushing for the biggest prizes. Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland, has stepped convincingly into the gap, winning 35 straight matches, and she could make it 36 by defeating a Croatian qualifier, Jana Fett, in the first round of Wimbledon. But Swiatek has played little on grass at this early stage in her career and below her, the hierarchy on tour is constantly shifting. In winning her six straight titles, Swiatek beat six different players in the finals.

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