Serena Williams brought up a landmark 1,000th career match at the Italian Open, but it ended in defeat at the hands of Nadia Podoroska.
The 39-year-old American, who was playing her first match since the Australian Open at the end of February, went down in straight sets to the world No 44.
Defeat in Rome does not take away from what is a stellar achievement over the course of 24 years – the 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 loss was just her 149th reverse from that extraordinary tally of matches.
For Podoroska, the encounter marked her third career victory over a top-10 player in the last eight months. She will now face Petra Martic in the last 16 after Martic’s 7-5 6-3 win over Kristina Mladenovic.
Podoroska showed a determination to make her presence felt in the first set. After holding a 2-1 lead, she then served for the set at 5-4, but Williams deployed her trademark battling qualities and took the opener to a tie-break.
As would become an ongoing theme, Podoroska had to work to close out the tie-break 8-6, having raced into a 5-1 and then a 6-3 lead.
With the opening set having gone against her, Williams restored parity in the early stages of the second and asked significant questions of Podoroska at two games apiece.
Yet again the Argentinian maintained her nerve as she came back from 0-30 to hold and then made her move for the line. With a 5-2 cushion, victory looked as if it would arrive quickly but, with the aura of Williams on the other side, serving it out became the final challenge.
A break to love by Williams, and then a significant hold, sparked thoughts of a deciding set. However, Podoroska stood firm and finished with a flourish.
‘An icon for this sport’
Williams’ achievement at bringing about her 1,000th match has garnered praise from her fellow players, with men’s world No 1 Novak Djokovic paying tribute to her.
“Congratulations on your big milestone playing the 1,000th match in your career,” he said on the ATP Tour’s website.
“Words cannot describe how much you’ve contributed to tennis in general, both the male and female sides.
“You’ve been an icon for this sport, thank you so much for everything you have done on and off the court and what you keep on doing.
“You inspire myself and many other players on both the men’s and women’s side. We are so excited to share the same era as you as well. Wishing you all the best champ, keep going and happy to still watch you on the court.”
Don’t forget to follow us on skysports.com/tennis, our Twitter account @skysportstennis & Sky Sports – on the go! Available to download now on – iPhone & iPad and Android
Read More: Sports News