Serena Williams knocked out of Wimbledon first round by Harmony Tan

115th-ranked Harmony Tan beat tennis legend Serena Williams after just over three hours. Credit: PA/AP

Seven-time champion Serena Williams has lost to Harmony Tan in the first round at Wimbledon.

The 115th-ranked Frenchwoman defeated the former champion 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) on Centre Court in a memorable debut at the All England Club.

For 40-year-old tennis legend Williams, it was her first singles match since exiting Wimbledon prematurely a year ago in the first round because of a hamstring injury.

Williams was leading 5-4 and was two points from victory but Tan broke to even the set.

In the 12th game of the decider, Williams then saved a match point.

But instead, Williams suffered just her third first-round loss at a Grand Slam match ever, going down 7-5 1-6 7-6 (7) in a deciding tie-break at 10.35pm after three hours and 10 minutes in what could be her Wimbledon farewell.

The match was Tan's fourth grass court tournament of her career, while it was Williams' 21st time appearing at Wimbledon.

Tan, a 24-year-old debutante ranked 115, is the type of player the tennis legend used to beat before even stepping on court but no one, including probably Williams, knew what to expect here.

Williams was rusty due to her past injury in the first two games, her footwork leaden and her ball-striking wayward, but she gradually began to find some rhythm and moved into a 4-2 lead.

Tan could not hope to match her opponent for power but had considerable success with deft drop shots and lobs and looked to be enjoying herself as she moved into a 6-5 lead.

With darkness closing in, a brief pause for the roof to be closed worked in Williams’ favour. She cut out some of the errors and set about retrieving the deficit, breaking Tan in the second game of the set after a remarkable run of 12 deuces.

When Williams, who won the last of her seven singles titles here in 2016, moved 3-1 ahead in the deciding set, it appeared the hard part was behind her.

But two doubles matches in Eastbourne last week were scant preparation for a return to grand slam singles and things became complicated once again.

Williams slid deeper into trouble after failing to serve out the match at 5-4 but put away a drive volley to save a match point at 5-6 and force a deciding first-to-10-points tie-break.

Williams moved into a 4-0 lead but, on the stage where she has triumphed on so many occasions, this time there was not to be a happy ending.