It was a tough day for the favorites at the Rome Masters on Wednesday. Four-time tournament champion Serena Williams made her 2021 clay debut but fell short against French semifinalist Nadia Podoroska 7-6(6), 7-5.
Podoroska was in charge most of the way, leading with breaks in both sets, but Serena was able to take advantage of the Argentine’s nerve, but not enough.
Podoroska hung on for the first set, then in a streak second set, she was broken at love while trying to serve it out but eventually got it done for one of her biggest career wins.
“I think it was a very good match, high level,” Podoroska said. “I knew that I have to play every point, fight for every ball.
“It’s special win,” she added. “She’s a great athlete. She did too many things for our sport. It’s history. So for me it’s very special. But most of all, I’m happy the way I played. Like, I felt again comfortable on clay, on my game, and that’s most important for me.”
Serena knew it was a tough draw going in.
“It’s tough to have a first match on clay,” Serena said. “It was definitely kind of good to go the distance and to try to be out there, but clearly I can do legions better.
“I just got to get there. Maybe I do need a few more matches, so I’m going to try to figure that out with my coach and my team and see what we would like to do. But, yeah, I just feel like it’s different. I have been training for months, but it feels definitely different on clay to make that last adjustment.
“Overall, it was good for me to play such a clay court player on clay today, but it’s a little frustrating. But it’s all right. It is what it is.”
To get some more matches, Serena will take a wildcard in the Parma, Italy event next week.
A calf injury ended the title defense hopes of Simona Halep. The Romanian was up 6-1, 3-all against Angelique Kerber when she pulled up lame.
“Unfortunately an ultrasound has revealed that I have a tear in my left calf,” Halep said in a statement. “I will get an MRI tomorrow to understand the injury in more detail, but at the moment we are unsure of recovery time.
“I’m so disappointed to end my tournament in Rome like this, but I will do everything I can to take care of the injury and be back as soon as possible. Thanks so much for your support and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.”
Naomi Osaka continued her struggles on clay going down to Jessica Pegula 7-6(2), 6-2.
“I think I started off a little slow,” Pegula said. “I was a little annoyed. I didn’t make many first serves. Against someone that hits as big as her, I was getting frustrated. I was, like, This isn’t going to work if I don’t start putting in some serves.
“I thought I toughed out the first set mentally, and then the second set I started to play better and I think she was starting to show more frustration. I was able to close it out, because I know that she’s a strong, powerful player that she could come back at any time.”
Sofia Kenin and Petra Kvitova were also upset victims. Maria Sakkari went down in three sets to Coco Gauff 6-1, 1-6, 6-1.
Ash Barty avoided the upset bug as did former champion Karolina Pliskova, Iga Swiatek and Garbine Muguruza. Two-time winner Elina Svitolina rallied from a set down to beat Amanda Anisimova.
On Thursday in the third round, Gauff will meet Aryna Sabalenka, Muguruza meets Swiatek in a battle of former French winners and Barty takes on an in-form Veronika Kudermetova.
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