Serena Williams, playing the 1000th WTA match of her career, lost on her return after nearly three months away to Nadia Podoroska in the second round of the WTA Italian Open on Wednesday.
The 39-year-old eighth seed fell 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 in under just two hours to the 44th-ranked Argentine, a surprise semi-finalist at last year’s Roland Garros.
Williams, a four-time Rome winner and 23-time Grand Slam champion, had not played since her semi-final defeat in the Australian Open this year.
The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30 where the American continues her bid to equal Australia’s Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam trophies.
Despite a battling performance Williams could not wear down the 24-year-old Argentine who broke the American twice in the first set.
Podoroska forced a tie-break with an ace and squandered three set points before sealing the set.
In the second, Williams was trailing 5-2 but held and broke the Argentine to love while she served for the match to level at 5-5.
Podoroska held her nerve to earn three match points to secure just her third career win over a top-10 player, all in the last eight months.
For Williams it was her 149th defeat, with 851 wins over the course of a WTA career covering 1000 matches.
But she will not get to celebrate with the Rome public, with spectators only allowed from Thursday’s third round at the Foro Italico while limited to a 25 percent capacity.
Podoroska next meets Croatia’s Petra Martic, who earlier beat France’s Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-3.