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May 13, 2021

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Serena, Osaka shocked in Rome

Serena Williams, playing the 1000th WTA match of her career, lost on her return after nearly three months away to Nadia Podoroska in the second round of the Italian Open yesterday.

The 39-year-old eighth seed fell 6-7 (6), 5-7 in under just two hours to the 44th-ranked Argentine, a surprise semifinalist at last year’s Roland Garros.

Williams, a four-time Rome winner and 23-time Grand Slam champion, had not played since her semifinal defeat in the Australian Open this year.

The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30 where the American continues her bid to equal Australia’s Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam trophies.

Despite a battling performance Williams could not wear down the 24-year-old Argentine and it was her 149th defeat, with 851 wins over the course of a WTA career covering 1000 matches.

But she will not get to celebrate with the Rome public, with spectators only allowed from today’s third round at the Foro Italico while limited to a 25 percent capacity.

Podoroska next meets Croatia’s Petra Martic, who earlier beat France’s Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-3.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka also crashed out after a 6-7 (2), 2-6 defeat to American Jessica Pegula.

The four-time Grand Slam winner, seeded second in the Italian capital, had received a first-round bye, but was unable to find her way back into the match after losing the first-set tie-break to her 31st-ranked opponent.

Osaka was playing just her third tournament since winning the Australian Open in February and also exited in the second round in Madrid earlier this month.

Osaka, the reigning US Open champion, has seven career hardcourt titles, but has never managed to lift a claycourt trophy.

Pegula, 27, who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, will next play 33rd-ranked Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova.

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty had no such problems as the Australian advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova.

Barty will next meet 28th-ranked Russian Veronika Kudermetova as she bids for a first Rome quarterfinal on her third appearance.

Kudermetova beat France’s 56th-ranked Caroline Garcia 6-4, 6-4.

In the men’s section, Russian third seed Daniil Medvedev crashed out with a straight sets defeat to compatriot Aslan Karatsev in the second round.

Karatsev, ranked 27th, won 6-2, 6-4 against world No. 2 Medvedev who also exited early in Madrid last week after pulling out of Monte Carlo after testing positive for COVID-19.

Karatsev, who won his first ATP title in Dubai in March, next plays American Reilly Opelka, ranked 47th.


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