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Serena Williams shines in Parma debut over Italian teen Lisa Pigato
The 23-time Grand Slam champion recalibrated her clay-court campaign by taking a wildcard into the inaugural Emilia-Romagna Open, where she dispatched a talented 17-year-old qualifier making her main-draw debut.
Published May 17, 2021
Serena Williams earned her first win of the clay-court season, easing past inspired Italian qualifier Lisa Pigato, 6-3, 6-2 to advance at the inaugural Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma.
"I've played everywhere," the top seed laughed after the match, "so now I can add this to the list. The atmosphere is great, and it's cool to be here."
The top seed and 23-time Grand Slam champion was playing her first clay-court tournament outside Rome and Roland Garros since 2015 (Båstad), and opted to take a wildcard into Parma alongside elder sister Venus after a surprising opening round Internazionali BNL d’Italia loss to Nadia Podoroska. Looking to maximize her preparation ahead of the second major tournament of 2021, Williams proved too strong in the face of some impressive opposition after 67 minutes on Center Court.
"I feel like I'm starting to feel more comfortable," she explained in her post-match press conference. "I've always felt super comfortable on clay but this year has been a little more difficult than normal. I think it's because of the long hiatus I had off clay."
Venus followed Serena on Center Court but bowed out to Slovak nemesis Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who scored a fourth straight win over the five-time Wimbledon champion, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.
Ranked outside the Top 500, the 17-year-old Pigato won the junior Roland Garros doubles title last fall and received a wild card into Parma’s qualifying draw, where she notched notable wins over Leonie Kung and Liudmilla Samsonova to make her WTA main-draw debut.
Marta Magni Images/MEF Tennis Events
Pigato delighted the home crowd with an opening break of serve, only for Williams to reel off the next four games to swiftly restore order. With the help of some powerful backhand drives, the teenager kept things relatively close from there but not enough to trouble the former world No. 1, who clinched the opening set with a big first serve.
Williams made early in-roads on the Pigato serve in the second set, breaking in the third game and putting away a forehand winner for a second to move within sight of victory.
Earning match point with an ace, the American clocked one last service winner to book her spot in the second round in just over an hour.
Williams was complimentary of Pigato in her on-court interview, sharing a laugh and a photo with the youngster after the match.
"I think her future's super bright," she said. "She's 17 and playing her first tournament, so that's pretty cool, and she handled the moment well. I look forward to cheering for her in the future."
Up next for the three-time French Open champion is Katerina Siniakova, who opened play on Monday with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Danish teen Clara Tauson. Tauson grabbed headlines by winning her first WTA title in Lyon, but retired from the 250 event in Charleston with a knee injury and has won just one match since.
Marta Magni Images/MEF Tennis Events
Former US Open champion and Roland Garros finalist Sloane Stephens edged through a tough challenge against Catherine McNally, dispatching her fellow American, 7-6 (4), 6-4.
In search of the form that took her as high as No. 3 in the WTA rankings, Stephens has endured an up and down clay-court swing, from reaching the Volvo Car Open quarterfinals to playing her first qualifying draw since 2012 at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia—one through which she advanced before ultimately bowing out to good friend Madison Keys in three sets.
Playing her first red-clay tournament of 2021, McNally made it through qualifying to play Stephens for the first time in Parma, and brought her to the brink in the opening set, rallying from 2-5 down to force a tiebreaker. Withstanding another late surge from the youngster in the Sudden Death, Stephens held off McNally to move on in just under two hours. Her road won't get any easier in the next round, where she'll face No. 4 seed Daria Kasatkina, who knocked out Hsieh Su-Wei in straight sets on Sunday. Stephens last played the Russian at the 2018 French Open, where she won their quarterfinal clash en route to the finals in Paris.