When you’ve beaten Serena Williams on Centre Court in your first Wimbledon match, Court 17 must seem a quiet affair. Here the applause reaches you in splatters rather than waves, and you can easily pick out the individual voice of your coach’s young niece shouting “Allez! Tres bien! Continue!”
After Harmony Tan’s spotlight debut on Tuesday, the performance demanded of her on the outer fringes was no less testing – and nor was her response any less impressive. A 6-3, 6-4 scoreline belied the maturity and grit it took to defeat the gutsy Sara Sorribes Tormo in a two-hour encounter that threatened to leave both punchdrunk.
Nor had the 24 hours that followed her victory against Williams been plain sailing. There was a notable lack of harmony in every sense after the 24-year-old withdrew from the women’s doubles before a planned first-round match alongside Tamara Korpatsch. The German player posted on Instagram that Tan pulled out by text an hour before their start time after claiming a thigh injury. “I’m very sad, disappointed and also very angry,” she wrote, amid a rash of emotional hashtags. “If you’re broken after a 3h match the day before, you can’t play professional.”
By Thursday morning, Tan’s jilted partner had deleted her post and replaced it with the news that the two women had “figured out all misunderstandings”, although in her post-match press conference Tan still seemed somewhat nonplussed by the exchange. “So, yeah, she was angry, but it’s life,” said the Frenchwoman. “She texted me and apologised for this publication and, you know, I don’t like drama. I’m not like this. So I didn’t answer.”
There was instant drama on court, too, Tan losing her serve in the opening game before breaking back immediately. Then came a long, net-skimming rally at 3-2, and a timely challenge from Sorribes Tormo to a ball called out on the right-hand side to save the next break point. But first the Spaniard’s serve-and-volley misfired, then just her serve: a double fault finally gave Tan the break, and she held on to it against battling resistance in the game that followed.
Sorribes Tormo, seeded 32, was the favourite in this match – she is ranked 45 in the world, as opposed to Tan’s 115. She had also been on court for less than half as long her opponent, after beating Christina McHale in about an hour and a quarter in her opening game. The second round remains the furthest the Spaniard has managed at Wimbledon but she showed her fighting mettle here last year in an epic contest against Angelique Kerber, and she evoked a similar spirit in the face of Tan’s mesmerising creativity.
There was no obvious sign of fatigue from Tan’s three-hour marathon with Williams – although she did pop a couple of pills at the changeover in acknowledgment of the thigh pain that kept her out of the doubles. Tan made the immediate break in a battling start to the second set, but a fortunate net cord in the fourth game gave Sorribes Tormo an opening. The Spaniard broke back and forced herself on the match, chasing down Tan’s drops and volleys, and attempting to wrest back control with her powerful forehand.
Tan needed to stay calm in the face of the onslaught, and didn’t always manage it – twice after breaking Sorribes Tormo she exhibited a sudden looseness that her opponent greedily exploited. But there were other times when her touch seemed to work literal magic. The sliced backhand that took her to advantage in the fifth game had everyone, on and off the court, looking the wrong way for the ball. She also won a point with a shot that suggested her wrists may be made of an elastic polymer rather than regular flesh. Sorribes Tormo wore a look of despair at the unfairness of it.
It was one of Tan’s trademark drop shots, the ball beating the Spaniard’s racket all ends up, that helped her to the decisive break, and she served out to love to set up an encounter on Saturday with Britain’s Katie Boulter. This is the first time that Tan has made it to the third round of a grand slam, and she’s aware that if she finds herself on a show court the crowd will be cheering for her opponent. Still, she’s ready for the challenge. “Katie, she’s a really good player on grass,” she said. “There will be maybe some [of the] public for her, but I’m prepared for that.”
Korpatsch was quick to offer her congratulations to Tan. “I’m glad your leg injury get better so quickly,” she wrote on Instagram, before adding for purposes of clarification on a second page: “ … It’s no sarcasm!”