LONDON — Everyone wants to talk to Harmony Tan about Serena Williams. The Frenchwoman has just raced through her first Wimbledon qualifying match 6-0, 6-1 over Elvina Kalieva, but it’s her memories of defeating the 23-time Grand Slam champion at SW19 in 2022 that her first two interviewers are more interested in.

The affable Tan understands why. After all, she didn’t just upset Williams but end her Wimbledon career. The American announced her retirement the following month. Even now, there’s a touch of pride when Tan marvels: “It was her last Wimbledon and I didn’t know. I was the last one!”

But unlike the media, it’s not her focus by any means. Since that headline-grabbing win, and Tan’s ensuing run to the last 16, the 26-year-old has endured injury after injury. Her knee and wrist proved the most troublesome and prevented her from stringing wins together at any level. One year after the Williams win, Tan found herself contesting an ITF W40 event in Palma del Rio, Spain, her ranking too low even for Wimbledon qualifying.

“I want to stay in the present,” Tan said after dissecting Kalieva with the array of slices and drop shots with which she made her name in 2022. She’s now both healthy and in good spirits; Tan ascribes the former to her decision to add a travelling physiotherapist to her team at the end of 2023, and the latter to the encouragement of her mother, Lizqueen.

“My mum helped me every day to be positive, to believe in my tennis,” Tan said.

After a strong semifinal run in the Surbiton ITF W100 three weeks ago, Tan is back inside the Top 200 and ready for more on her beloved grass. She’s aware that her ranking after Wimbledon 2022 was kept low due to no points being awarded for that tournament — a fact she says she accepted, but found tough as she was forced to compete at a lower level while simultaneously struggling physically.

“But the Wimbledon memories are good,” she said. “And now I know this year there are points.”

Is she coming to get those fourth-round points she never benefited from in 2022? Tan, who will next face Australia’s Olivia Gadecki, breaks out in a broad grin.

“Yeah, for sure!”

Meditation aids Diyas in getting healthy again

Tan isn’t the only player on the comeback trail inspired by previous Wimbledon success. Last year, Zarina Diyas — who reached the last 16 at SW19 in 2014 and 2015 — was contemplating retirement. The 30-year-old Kazakh had not played since Roland Garros 2022, and persistent shoulder and stomach issues kept derailing her attempts to get back on court.

“I was trying and training, and last year I thought I’d never come back,” Diyas said after a 7-5, 7-5 win over Mananchaya Sawangkaew in her first Grand Slam match in over two years.

Indeed, Diyas is only back because she told the Kazakhstani Tennis Federation that she planned to quit. They persuaded her to resume light training with a view to saying farewell at this year’s Billie Jean King Cup tie against Japan in April. Unexpectedly, Diyas found that her body no longer hurt. Instead of bidding goodbye, she found herself competing on the Japanese ITF circuit through May.

Diyas ascribes her recovery to her newfound love of meditation, which has shown her how interlinked physical and mental states can be.

“I started doing it a few months ago,” she said. “I found this really great mentor, Makpal Karibzhanova, and she guides me through the meditation — I want to say big thanks to her. I think my injuries were really related to my stress and my mental state. Our mental is very connected to our bodies.”

Diyas is just four tournaments into her comeback, but has already set herself a goal of returning to the Top 100 by the end of the year. She’s inspired by recent successful comebacks on the Hologic WTA Tour by players such as her good friend Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, whom she cheered on throughout 2023, and most of all she’s happy to be back at Wimbledon.

“My style of game really suits this surface — I play flat and low,” she said. “And I love London. My sister went to university here and she would always show me around lots of places — I love Hyde Park, the museums, the galleries and even a Sunday roast! It’s extra special for me to be here.”

Diyas next faces No.29 seed Sachia Vickery.

Other notable first-round qualifying results

A strong day for British wild cards saw 15-year-old Hannah Klugman post the first Grand Slam victory of her career, powering past Petra Marcinko 6-2, 6-2 in just 55 minutes. The junior No.6 was joined by Amarni Bankswho came from a set down to beat former No.10 Kristina Mladenovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-2; and Sonay Kartalwho upset No.31 seed Suzan Lamens 7-6(6), 6-4. However, there was heartbreak for Katy Dunne, who mistakenly celebrated victory at 7-5 in the match tiebreak against Tena Lukasonly to ultimately fall 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-6[8] in 3 hours and 8 minutes.

Fresh off the Gaiba WTA 125 title last week, Alycia Parks continued her resurgent form by defeating Katarzyna Kawa 6-0, 6-2 in exactly an hour. Having endured a 13-match losing streak between January and May, Parks is now on a seven-match winning streak.

Other in-form players to progress included ‘s-Hertogenbosch quarterfinalist Robin Montgomerywho defeated Vitalia Diatchenko 1-6, 6-3, 6-4; Daria Snigurwho advanced 7-5, 6-0 over Jil Teichmann; and Zeynep Sonmezwho raced past No.13 seed Mai Hontama 6-2, 6-1. No.8 seed Olga Danilovicin action for the first time since reaching the Roland Garros last 16, also won 6-3, 6-4 over Lucrezia Stefanini.

Playing her first Grand Slam qualifying event since the 2017 US Open, Amanda Anisimova defeated Valentini Grammatikopoulou 6-2, 6-2 and will next face American compatriot and No.4 seed Hailey Baptiste.


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