It was a strong Challenger Series debut by Liu, who this season is skating in the seniors internationally for the first time.
The 16 year old managed a clean skate in the short program, which she performed to Gypsy Dance from Don Quixote by Ludwig Minkus.
Working under her new coaches Jeremy Abbott, a four-time U.S. national champion, and Italian Olympian Massimo Scali, the teenager looked extremely pleased leaving the ice and the judges concurred, awarding her the highest score of the session.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding the American, who is a two-time reigning national champion and the first female skater to land a triple Axel and a quadruple jump in the same program.
Liu will also be competing in the Nebelhorn Trophy in two weeks time for a chance to earn an Olympic qualification spot, and hopefully join compatriots Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell, who have already qualified for Beijing 2022.
READ: Figure skating prodigy Alysa Liu all in ahead of first senior international year in Olympic season
Second-placed Paganini kept herself in contention for a maiden Challenger Series win with a strong performance.
The 19-year-old is a three-time Swiss national champion and finished second in last year's Nebelhorn Trophy. She would love nothing more than to kick start her fifth season as a senior skater with a win.
Coached by eight-time Romanian champion Gheorghe Chiper, Paganini has plenty of experience on the international stage having competed at PyeongChang 2018 as well as three world championships.
Similarly, Kurakova in third is close enough to capitalise should Liu slip up in the free skate on Saturday.
The 19-year-old, who was born in Moscow but now competes for Poland, has one Challenge Series title to her name - when she won the Warsaw Cup back in 2019.
Yasmine Kimiko Yamada from Switzerland remains in contention for a podium after finishing the short program in fourth with 58.89 points while Audrey Shin, who finished 7th overall at the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games, was fifth in the short program 58.80.
Liu could clinch her first Challenger Series title if the American can manage another clean performance when the competition continues with the free skate on Saturday (11 September).
Lombardia Trophy women's short program top ten finishers Alysa LIU (USA) - 74.31 Alexia PAGANINI (SUI) - 62.14 Ekaterina KURAKOVA (POL) - 61.51 Yasmine Kimiko YAMADA (SUI) - 58.89 Audrey SHIN (USA) - 58.80 Lindsay VAN ZUNDERT (NED) - 57.90 Regina SCHERMANN (HUN) - 54.04 Kristina SHKULETA-GROMOVA (EST) - 53.58 Sophia SCHALLER (AUT) - 52.45 Maia MAZZARA (FRA) - 52.39
American figure skater Alysa Liu won the Lombardia Trophy, Challenger Series competition of the International Skating Union (ISU) and one of the last international competitions before the Nebelhorn Trophy , a month-end event that decides the final places for the Winter Olympics in 2022. The tournament in Italy had the participation of several athletes who compete directly with the Brazilian Isadora Williams for the Olympic spot.
Liu showed once again why she is the favorite to win the pre-Olympic. The American made the best performance in the short program, to the sound of "Dança Cigana" by the ballet Don Quixote. Alysa Liu got all her elements right to get 74.31 points.
In the long program, the two-time national champion of the United States performed with Tchaikovsky's Concerto for Violin and easily took the first position with 144.93, finishing with 219.24 points in total. The three scores are Liu's best personal marks. The athlete made two small mistakes that could have made her grade even higher on the long program. It lacked rotation on the triple axel and triple toe-loop that she connected with a triple lutz. Fixing these details, Liu should win a third Olympic spot for the United States in the Nebelhorn.
Another favorite for the Olympic spot is Ekaterina Kurakova from Poland who took silver in Lombardy with 187.65 points. The Pole made two good presentations, but had problems completing the rotations of some jumps (a triple toeloop in the short program and a triple flip in the long program).
Audrey Shin from the United States took the bronze medal with 172.46. Shin got the fifth best grade in the short program and fourth in the long one, but took advantage of mistakes made by Swiss Alexia Paganani and Italian Lara Gutmann to take third place overall.
Paganani and Gutmann will compete at Nebelhorn and are in the pool of candidates for the Olympic place. Alexia Paganani had the second-best score in the short program ( 62.14 ), but a drop in the long program meant that Switzerland finished fourth overall ( 171.48 ). Already Lara Gutmann had a bad score in the short program to have its double toeloop invalidated, ranking 18th place with 48.65 points. The Italian recovered by making the third best presentation of the long program ( 118.33 ) and finished in fifth place in total ( 166.98 ).