More Than Just Another Win For Serena In Parma

Serena Williams and Lisa Pigato (photo: Marta Magni Images/MEF Tennis Events)

PARMA/WASHINGTON, May 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Serena Williams couldn’t remember the last time she was asked to pose for photos by a player whom she had just beaten. However, on Monday at the WTA 250-series Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma, Italy, she took the gesture by 17-year-old Italian wild card qualifier Lisa Pigato in good stride – even thought it was good moxie on the part of the kid.

After all, the 572nd-ranked Pigato from Bergamo, Italy, had just finished her WTA main draw debut against the 23-time Grand Slam champion, who was in the midst of winning her sixth major at Wimbledon in 2003 during the same week that the young Italian was born. Who wouldn’t want a souvenir for the ages?

The World No. 8 Williams, who is the top seed this week in Parma, won the first-round match – as expected – 6-3, 6-2, and it lasted just 68 minutes. The only hiccup was Williams being broken in the first game of the match, after Pigato hit three winners. However, Williams won 16 of the next 18 points and righted herself accordingly. Regardless of the final result, the spirited Pigato was thrilled by the experience. She beamed a big smile at the center of the court when the two competitors tapped their racquets and it continued after they walked off the court, where they posed together for keepsake photos.

“It’s usually after the match, in the locker room, I take photos,” Williams said during her virtual press conference after her victory. “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 liked it; I liked it a lot. I wish I had done that with my first match; it would have been really cool.”

When Pigato was queried about the moment by a reporter during a virtual interview, she admitted it was a spontaneous one. “I can’t explain what I felt in this moment, because it’s just a big emotion. Playing against her, it was my dream,” she said. “I’m really happy to play against her and to make some games. When we finished, I thanked her, because it was an honor playing against her. She told me that I’m a good player, and it was fantastic to talk to her.”

The victory was the first on clay this season by Williams and it came a week after losing in straight sets to 2020 French Open semifinalist Nadia Podoroska of Argentina in Rome. The three-time Roland Garros champion Williams, who said she came to Parma to be able to play some matches on clay to get ready for this year’s French Open that begins in less than two weeks, hit six aces, won 75 percent of her first-serve points, converted four of nine break-point chances and was broken just once by Pigato, who was successful in winning 61 percent of her first-serve points but was outpointed 59-33.

“Lisa played really well,” Williams said during an on-court interview after her win, which advanced her to face No. 68 Katerina Siniakova in Tuesday’s second round after the Czech beat Danish teenager Clara Tauson 6-1, 6-3.

“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.”

Later, during her virtual press conference, Tennis TourTalk asked the 39-year-old Williams if she remembered what it was like for her to play at age 17. She said: “Yeah, it was pretty exciting to play at 17 for me. I had been on the [WTA] tour for a year.” Then, when she was asked to describe for Tennis TourTalk what it was like to play in front of a crowd for the first time since at the Australian Open, she said: “It was definitely a different atmosphere; it was nice. It was good having a crowd out there. Hopefully, the world gets back to a new normal and we’ll get to play in front of some more crowds.”

More Serena: On Roger Federer

Serena Williams was asked by a reporter to describe what she thought Roger Federer‘s most significant contribution to tennis has been: “I think two words sums it up: Roger Federer.

“He’s a synopsis of greatness, of class – he’s amazing – and he’s really changed the game. It’s great to see players playing like him, moving like him, doing his techniques. The guy is genius. I’m a super fan. He is really the greatest player. You can’t not like the guy. That’s how I feel. His game is so fantastic. If only I could play like him!”

More Roger: Federer ready to gauge his level

As Roger Federer plays his first clay-court match in two years at the Gonet Geneva Open on Tuesday – and just his third match of any kind this year – the Swiss great seems excited by his return to the ATP Tour. After taking 13 months off after knee surgery following the 2020 Australian Open, Federer played in Doha in March. However, as he admitted during a press conference on Monday, he’s not concerned about his level.

“I am just concerned about where my game is at,” the 39-year-old Federer said. “The guys are back on Tour in a good rhythm, the level everyone is producing is great. I want to achieve that again, too.

“I need to play 10 matches to give you a better answer [about my level]. Things have been going well in practice. When you come back from an injury, you’re in a different place than everyone else. I am excited about the comeback, and won’t be focused on being at the same level as Rafa [Nadal] or Novak [Djokovic] right now.”

The World No. 8 Federer will play his first match against Spain’s 75th-ranked Pablo Andújar on Tuesday. He will bring a 32-match winning streak in matches played in Switzerland into this ATP 250 tournament match. The last tournament that Federer won was the Swiss Indoors Basel in October 2019.

As for playing on clay, again, Federer said: “I’m almost more focused on the clay than the opponent, to be honest,” Federer said. “But I think the moment I am healthy or able to get matches again under my belt, that will increase my confidence. I think then I’ll be a part of the top tier. If you want be in the top tier you need to play 50, 80 or 100 matches per season and that gets tougher as you get older.”

Leylah Fernandez: ‘Let’s focus on the next match’

Leylah Fernandez of Canada, currently ranked 69th, had not won a match on clay in over a month until she beat No. 73 Polona Hercog of Slovenia at the Serbia Ladies Open in rainy Belgrade on Monday.

Fernandez had lost in the first round of qualifying in each of her last two tournaments, at Madrid and Rome, against Ana Konjuh of Croatia and Christina McHale of the United States. So, beating Hercog 7-5, 6-1 was a step in the right direction.

Tennis TourTalk asked the 18-year-old Fernandez how important it was for her to get a win and break her losing streak. She said: “It’s definitely very important. I haven’t played too well the past couple of tournaments, but I’m very happy with my performance and the way I played today. Now, let’s focus on the next match.”

Fernandez will play either 123rd-ranked lucky loser Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria, who replaced injured Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia after the No. 1 seed withdrew Monday due to an abdominal injury, or unranked Serbian wild card Lola Radivojevic in the second round on Wednesday.

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Lisa Pigato, the 17-year-old Italian, describing what she learned about herself after facing living legend and future Hall of Famer Serena Williams in her very first WTA tour main draw match and what she can take forward: “I just tried to learn [from her], to play with rhythm, to play my game. Like everything, her attitude toward the match – her game – I just like everything and I learned so much from her.”

What they’re sharing on social media

Kei Nishikori / He and his wife Mai are going to be parents