No.1 seed Serena Williams opened her Emilia-Romagna Open campaign with a solid 6-3, 6-2 defeat of spirited teenage debutante Lisa Pigato in one hour and eight minutes.
Pigato, 17, had started the tournament as a qualifying wildcard. The reigning Roland Garros girls' doubles champion alongside Eleonora Alvisi had never previously competed in a professional event above ITF W25 level, though she had won two ITF W15 trophies in 2019.
But two wins over Leonie Kung and Liudmila Samsonova, both from a set down and the former from match point down, had put Pigato into her first ever WTA main draw.
The World No.572 was quick to show off her potential against Serena, who had taken a wildcard into Parma after her opening loss in Rome last week to Nadia Podoroska. Pigato came up with three glorious winners to break the 23-time Grand Slam champion in the first game, demonstrating both clean technique and fine touch at net.
Serena was quick to adjust to a brand-new opponent, though. Firing up her serve and return, the American raced through 16 of the next 18 points, asserting her authority emphatically to take a 4-1 lead.
Indeed, following the opening loss of her delivery, Serena ensured that she would not find herself in a similar hole again. She dropped just five more points on serve, raining down six aces and many more that Pigato could barely lay her racquet on.
This was a combination of focusing on her own game and getting a handle on her opponent's.
"The first game, she played really good and I needed to adjust to get back," Serena said. "It was a bit of both, figuring out her game as well."
Pigato, who was born in the week that Serena won her sixth major title at Wimbledon 2003, was able to battle to a few more holds. But as the match went on, Serena's accuracy on her groundstrokes and drive volleys grew, and she was able to close out the win with three consecutive unreturned serves.
Serena will next play Katerina Siniakova for the first time. The Czech World No.68 defeated an errant Clara Tauson 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 25 minutes.
Afterwards, Serena was full of compliments for her opponent, with whom she shared a photo and chat afterwards.
"Lisa played really well," she said in her on-court interview. "She told me she was only 17. Her future is super-bright - she handled the moment well, so I look forward to cheering for her in the future."
Serena was also impressed by Pigato approaching her to document her milestone.
"It's usually after the match, in the locker room, I take photos," she told the press. "It was really cool and gutsy. It was her first WTA main draw match, so I thought it was a really good opportunity to take a photo - she'll be able to look back on that in years. I wish I had done that with my first match, it would have been really cool."
Pigato said that the request had been a spontaneous one.
"Playing against her, it was my dream," she told press. "When we finished, I thanked her, because it was an honour playing against her. She told me that I'm a good player, and it was fantastic to talk to her."
A nice exchange 💞 and a special moment for 🇮🇹 Lisa Pigato pic.twitter.com/Y9bA1WbEz7— wta (@WTA) May 17, 2021
Schmiedlova defeats Venus again, Stephens through
Serena's older sister Venus had also taken a wildcard into Parma following an injury-hit, stop-start season. However, she remained winless on clay this year after falling 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 to qualifier Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in two hours and 39 minutes.
The Slovak has been something of a nemesis for Venus in recent years. Today's result extended Schmiedlova's lead in their head-to-head to 4-1, including the last four meetings. It is the third time in the series that Schmiedlova has won from a set down, having also triumphed 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 at Roland Garros 2014 and 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 at Monterrey 2020.
Here, a match of wild momentum swings saw Schmiedlova lose the first set from 5-2 up, squandering three set points along the way as Venus began to find the target with searing down-the-line winners.
💥 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova defeats Venus Williams in three sets 5-7 6-2 6-2 💥@ERTourism | @RegioneER | @ComuneParma | @SuperTennisTv | #Schmiedlova | #Williams | #EmiliaRomagnaOpen | #WTAParma pic.twitter.com/tgTFSOZ8xH— MEF tennis events (@meftennisevents) May 17, 2021
But Venus was unable to sustain her momentum in the face of Schmiedlova's stellar counterpunching. The World No.125 was frequently able to turn rallies around with laser backhands from defensive positions. The match reached its height at the start of the third set, which saw the pair exchange breaks over two games that featured seven deuces and several high-octane rallies.
Once Schmiedlova had captured the break back, though, she was able to maintain her lead as Venus's valiant battling was undone by the former World No.1's mounting errors.
Elsewhere, an all-American derby saw Sloane Stephens edge qualifier Caty McNally 7-6(4), 6-4. McNally forced a first-set tiebreak from 2-5 down and twice broke Stephens back in the second set, but was unable to find her compatriot's consistency at the end of each set.