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Federer expects tough battle to get back on top

Serena Williams earned her first victory in more than three months by beating 17-year-old qualifier Lisa Pigato 6-3, 6-2 on Monday in the first round of the Emilia-Romagna Open.

Williams, who accepted a wild-card invitation for the Parma tournament after losing her opening match at the Italian Open last week, dominated after dropping her serve in the opening game.

“I’m just starting to feel more comfortable. I’ve always felt super comfortable on the clay and this year has been a little more difficult than normal,” said Williams, who served six aces.

“I think it was because of the long hiatus I’ve had (from) the clay.”

Williams hadn’t won since beating Simona Halep in the Australian Open quarterfinals in February. She was eliminated from the year’s first Grand Slam tournament by Naomi Osaka in the semifinals.

After some time off, Williams then lost in straight sets in Rome to Nadia Podoroska, a French Open semifinalist last year.

Williams is preparing for Roland Garros, which starts in two weeks. Her previous win on clay came in the first round of last year’s tournament in Paris.

It was the first WTA match for Pigato and the 1,001st for Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion.

Pigato asked Williams to pose for a photo with her on court immediately after the match ended.

“It was really cool and gutsy,” Williams said. “She’s going to look back (in) years and be like, ‘Well, this was my first match.’ I wish I had done that with my first match, it would have been really cool.”

Ranked No. 572, Pigato won the girls’ doubles title at last year’s French Open with Eleonora Alvisi.

Williams will next face 68th-ranked Katerina Siniakova, who eliminated Danish teenager Clara Tauson 6-1, 6-3.

Also, former US Open champion Sloane Stephens beat Catherine McNally 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Meanwhile, Roger Federer said on Monday he expects to return to the top tier of tennis even though the next generation of players will have gained ground during his lengthy injury lay-off.

Federer begins his comeback-proper on Swiss home soil in Geneva on Tuesday, with the 39-year-old tennis legend starting a run of tournaments including the French Open, Halle, Wimbledon and then the Tokyo Olympics.

Federer returned to the courts in March, having been out for more than a year following two knee surgeries, winning his first match in Qatar before losing his second.

Doha was his first appearance since January 2020 and an Australian Open semi-final defeat to Novak Djokovic.

“I’m just concerned about where my game is at. The guys on tour are all in a good rhythm. The level that everybody is producing in great. I want to achieve that as well again,” Federer told reporters.

His old rivals Djokovic and Rafael Nadal played out a two-hour 49-minute final in Rome on Sunday, with Nadal claiming a 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 victory to match the Serbian world number one’s record of 36 Masters 1000 series titles.

“I’m excited about the comeback, that’s what my focus needs to be on and not about trying to be at the same level as Rafa and Novak right now,” Federer said.

But the 20-time Grand Slam title winner added: “I believe I will be part of the top tier.”

‘Next Gen’ threat: Federer said he was impressed by the level of tennis on show during his absence from the tour.

He said the so-called “Next Generation” of players such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev plus 2020 US Open winner Dominic Thiem would all prove a much tougher challenge now.

“One thing is for sure, I would expect that the generation of Tsitsipas, Zverev, Rublev, Medvedev have all again gotten better naturally because they have more experience,” he said.


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