Playing the 1000th Tour match of her career, Serena Williams suffered a shock 7-6 (6), 7-5 defeat at the hands of Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska in the second round of the Italian Open on Wednesday.
The 23-times Grand Slam champion twice came back from a break down but struggled on her first serve as Podoroska took the opening set in the tiebreak.
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The Argentine, who reached the French Open semi-finals last year, produced a string of heavy topspin forehands to take control of the match with an early break in the second set.
Although Podoroska was broken to love on her first attempt to serve out the match, she maintained her composure to break again and secure a place in the round of 16.
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Defeat for Williams, who received an opening round bye in Rome, was a major blow to her preparations for the French Open, starting on May 30. She was playing her first clay-court event and her first match since the Australian Open.
“It’s tough to have a first match on clay. It was definitely kind of good to go the distance and to try to be out there, but clearly I can do legions better,” Williams said.
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“I have been training for months, but it feels definitely different on clay to make that last adjustment. Just filling out the game, finding the rhythm.
“Even sliding and confidence with that, with movement… That’s always like a little struggle in the first two matches, and then I’m raring to go.”
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It was the American’s 149th defeat in her 1,000 career WTA matches.
World number two Naomi Osaka also crashed out of the tournament, losing 7-6(2) 6-2 to American Jessica Pegula.
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Osaka, a four-times Grand Slam winner, has often struggled on clay and her defeat in Rome followed a second-round loss at the Madrid Open this month.