Things are not going to plan for Serena Williams, who was knocked out of the Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma, Italy, in the second round on Wednesday by Katerina Siniakova, the Czech World No 68, in straight sets.
It's amazing, it means a lot to me. I played [an] amazing match. It shows me that I can play like this, I can play well. I just need to try be more focused every time and to stay calm and ready for every point. I will be really happy if I could keep it like this. Katerina Siniakova
“Not every day is really amazing,” Siniakova said. “If you go to play against a player like this, you really have nothing to lose, so I came up and wanted to enjoy it.
“In the beginning I was so nervous, but when it was 1-1 everything just came down and I was just really enjoying it.
“I was feeling so free and so free that it just really went my way.”
Williams, the top seed here, had accepted a wild-card in preparation for Roland Garros later this month after having lost to Nadia Podoroska in her first match of the Italian Open, but this result continues her disappointing run on clay this season, and the 39-year-old has now won just 1 match at a clay-court tournament since reaching the Round of 16 at the 2018 French Open.
The prospect of Williams equalling the 24 Grand Slam singles record set by Margaret Court looks more and more unlikely to happen in Paris next month.
While Williams comfortably beat Italy’s teenage qualifier Lisa Pigato in the first round in Parma on Monday, she could not get past the more experienced Siniakova, a former World No 1 in doubles, who pulled off the 7-6(4) 6-2 upset in an hour and 37 minutes on Tuesday.
“It’s amazing, it means a lot to me,” Siniakova told reporters after the match. ”I played [an] amazing match.
“It shows me that I can play like this, I can play well. I just need to try be more focused every time and to stay calm and ready for every point. I will be really happy if I could keep it like this.”
Williams held a set point at 5-4 in the opener, which was well saved by Siniakova, who then claimed the first break of serve only for the American to fight her way back into the tiebreak.
Siniakova proved the more consistent in the breaker, though, and the Czech then won 4 games in a row to finish the contest.
“I’m so happy that I could finish it like this,” Siniakova said on court. “It was really a pleasure to share with her the court.”
It was Siniakova’s 6th top 10 win of her career, and her first in nearly two years, and it sends Williams to Roland Garros having won just one match since February, after the Czech won 16 of the final 18 points to advance on Center Court.
Siniakova stuck with Williams on serve throughout the opener, saving the set point in the 10th game with a stunning forehand down the line to turn the tables on the 23-time Grand Slam champion, breaking for a shot at serving it out.
Although Williams broke straight back to force the breaker, the Czech stayed in front, surging ahead 5-3 to ultimately seal things with a service winner.
The second began with an exchange of breaks as the increasingly frustrated World No 8 struggled to find her range.
Siniakova capitalised on some loose shots from the American to reel off an astonishing 15 straight points to find herself 5-2 and triple match point up on Williams’ serve.
The 3-time French Open champion stopped the run, though, saving the first 2, but the Czech would not be denied on the 3rd, forcing a forehand long from the former World No 1 to edge over the finish line and into her second quarter-final of the season.
Siniakova, who was only broken twice in the 2 sets, was efficient against Williams, winning 72.2 percent of first serves and 64 percent of second serves, while the American didn’t help her own cause with 7 double-faults and plenty of unforced errors leading to the loss.
“[The title] is still far away,” she said. “Every match will be really hard and now I will have the pressure because I defeated such a great player.
“I will enjoy it and I’m happy I can still continue. I will try to play my best in my next match.”
Awaiting her there will be either No 8 seed Caroline Garcia from France or German qualifier Anna-Lena Friedsam.
Meanwhile, another American, 3rd seed Coco Gauff let a 5-1 lead slip away in the second set against the dangerous Estonian, Kaia Kanepi, but she recovered to win, 7-6(6) 7-6(7), and continue her good form on clay after reaching the semi-finals in Rome.
Gauff came back from 3-5 down to fend off a set point in the breaker, while Kanepi resurged from 1-5 down in the second by winning 5 consecutive games.
The 17-year old saved 2 more set points in the second set tiebreak before sealing the win on her first match point.
World No 66 Kanepi’s accuracy with her heavy groundstrokes oscillated wildly over the course of the match and was largely responsible for the scoreboard rollercoaster.
Gauff again impressed with her resilience to find her best tennis when she needed it, despite having seemingly lost control of the run of play.
Elsewhere, 2nd seed Petra Martic was a 6-4 6-2 winner over Russia’s Varvara Gracheva, taking an hour and 21 minutes. The Croatian reached her first WTA 1000 semi-final in Rome last week under the guidance of her new coach Francesca Schiavone.
Sloane Stephens from the USA came back from a set down to upset Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, the No 4 seed, 1-6 6-4 7-5 after 2 hours and 5 minutes.
Kasatkina broke twice in the 4th and 6th games to win the first set 6-1, and while the second set was marked by 9 break in 10 games, Stephens held the only serve in the 7th to level.
The Russian got the early break in the first game of the decider to go up 2-0, but Stephens broke back in the 4th game to draw level at 2-2.
They traded breaks over the next 4 games en route to 4-all before Kasatkina fended off 3 match points in the 12th game, and Stephens converted her 4th chance to win her way into the quarter-finals in Parma.
The American now leads the head-to-head between the 2 former Top 10 players 3-1 after an arduous match decided mostly by competitive instincts.
In 29 games, Kasatkina held serve only 6 times, 4 of which were in the first set, and Stephens only 5 times.
Kasatkina dominated the opener, coming up with some delightful touches of finesse, but as conditions grew gustier, her shotmaking efficiency decreased markedly, as did her authority behind her serve, with the Russian won only 50% of the points behind her first serve and 22% behind her second.
Stephens also suffered behind her delivery, winning 27% of her first serve points and none of her second serve points in the second set, but the American was able to hit through the wind more as the contest drew to a close.
The pair engaged in a series of gruelling rallies in the third set, and more often than not it was Stephens whose defence proved impenetrable or who could find a winning shot.
Kasatkina found 3 spectacular winners to stave off the first 3 match points she faced, but it was too little, too late.
In other results on Tuesday, former French Open finalist Sara Errani from Italy beat Romania’s Ana Bogdan, 7-5 4-6 6-1, and takes on Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo next, while lucky loser Liudmila Samsonova from Russia defeated another Italian, Giulia Gatto-Monticone, 6-2 6-2, for the chance to play Martic in round 2.
American Amanda Anisimova, the 5th seed, took out qualifier Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-2 6-4, the Slovakian having dispatched Venus Williams in her opening round in high winds sent by God.
In the quarters, Anisimova awaits the winner of the match between Gauff and Italy’s Camila Giorgi on Wednesday.