Draw Preview: Could it be another Swiatek v Sabalenka final in Rome?

The dust has barely settled after the marathon final on Saturday between Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka in Madrid when the draw for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia revealed on Monday that the World No 1 and 2 are slated for play again at the WTA 1000 in Rome.

In Madrid, Sabalenka edged Elena Rybakina in 3 sets before falling to Swiatek in a 3-hour, 11-minute final thriller.

It’s a quick turn-around for them all, but all 32 seeds start with a bye in the 1st-round of the 96-woman draw, which offers a little respite to reset for the new conditions.

Also in the lower half of the draw with Sabalenka is again Rybakina, the World No 4, leaving Coco Gauff, the 3rd seed, in the top half with Swiatek.

Last year, Rybakina and Swiatek met in the quarter-finals, with the Pole retiring at 2-2 in the 3rd set with a right thigh pull, and the Kazakh moved on to land the title after Anhelina Kalinina pulled out of the final after the 1st set, also injured.

Swiatek, the champion in Rome in 2021 and 2022, is bidding to become the 6th player in the Open Era to lift the trophy 3 times, after Chris Evert, Gabriela Sabatini, Conchita Martínez, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

The 22-year old begins on court against Guadalajara finalist Caroline Dolehide or a qualifier in the 2nd-round, and could face US Open champion Sloane Stephens in round 3, with Ekaterina Alexandrova the possible 4th-round opponent.

Marketa Vondrousova could lie in wait in the quarter-final, although the reigning Wimbledon champion has a tough hurdle ahead of her in former US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez in the 2nd-round.

There is a probable tough test for Swiatek too, against Gauff in the semi-final, before facing Sabalenka again in the final, if the seedings hold.


Aryna Sabalenka has had much success in Madrid that she has yet to replicate in Rome

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

In contrast to her success in Madrid, Sabalenka has advanced past the 3rd-round in Rome just once, a semi-final run in 2022, and the World No 2 has a tricky-looking draw, with her 2nd-round opponent likely to be Wang Yafan, before possibly facing Dayana Yastremska in round 3.

From then on, it just gets tougher, with some big names likely to stand in the 26-year old Belarusian’s way, with Elina Svitolina in the 4th round, a rematch of their Roland-Garros quarter-final last year, Ons Jabeur in the quarter-final, who defeated Sabalenka in last year’s Wimbledon semi-final, and Rybakina in the Last 4, who will want to avenge both her Madrid semi-final defeat and the Australian Open final, plus, then there is Swiatek in the final.

Svitolina, the 16th seed and two-time Rome champion opens against the winner of an intriguing stylistic encounter between Sara Errani and Amanda Anisimova, while Jabeur, the 2022 runner-up seeded 8, starts against either Italian No 2 Lucia Bronzetti or former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

No 9 seed Jelena Ostapenko, a semi-finalist in Rome last year, will open against either Anastasia Potapova or Wang Xiyu, and is projected to meet Jabeur in the 4th round.


Coco Gauff will be looking to regain the form that took her to the 2022 French Open final over the coming days on Roman clay

© Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Gauff, a semi-finalist here in 2021, was the only member of the Top 4 who didn’t hold her seeding in Madrid, and the US Open champion will want to right that in Rome, opening against fellow 2004-born American Ashlyn Krueger or Magdalena Frech in the second quarter.

Former Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova, the 25th seed, who has struggled with illness and injury this year, is her projected 3rd-round opponent.

No 15 seed Liudmila Samsonova is slated to meet Gauff in the 4th-round, although she will have to navigate a fiendish section including fast-rising youngsters Mirra Andreeva and Diana Shnaider.

Zheng Qinwen, the No 7 seed is Gauff’s projected quarter-final opponent, and is bidding to win consecutive matches for the first time since February, with the Australian Open runner-up facing either Shelby Rogers or wild-card Lisa Pigato in the 2nd-round, and a possible meeting with No 29 seed Linda Noskova in the 3rd.

Potential 4th-round opponents for Zheng or Noskova include Marta Kostyuk, Naomi Osaka and the 10th seed, Daria Kasatkina.


Elena Rybakina is the defending champion in Rome

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The third quarter sees Rybakina, a 3-time titlist this year already, opening her title defence against either Irina-Camelia Begu or a qualifier, while, in the 4th-round, she is slated to face No 13 seed Danielle Collins in what would be a rematch of the Miami final, which the American won, 7-5 6-3.

2019 semi-finalist Maria Sakkari is the 5th seed, and Rybakina’s projected Last 8 opponent, but the Greek will have to navigate stern opposition to get there, as she could face last year’s runner-up, No 30 seed Kalinina in the 3rd-round, and her potential 4th-round opponents include Italian No 1 Jasmine Paolini, the 11th seed, or 2013 finalist Victoria Azarenka, the No 24 seed, who could face off in the 3rd-round.

There are some tasty-looking 1st-round encounters among the unseeded players, including Andreeva facing former World No 2 Paula Badosa, 4-time Grand Slam champion Osaka taking on Clara Burel, with the winner to meet No 19 seed Kostyuk, while 3-time Slam winner Angelique Kerber plays Lauren Davis, with No 17 seed Veronika Kudermetova probably lining up for one of them in round 2.

Osaka and Kerber, both former World No 1s, are unseeded as they continue their come-backs from maternity leave.

Another 1st-round contest to circle is Italian No 4 Martina Trevisan’s match-up with Madrid quarter-finalist Yulia Putintseva, a battle that promises a passionate atmosphere, with the winner taking on Stephens.


Katie Boulter, the 26th seed, is the only Brit in the main draw at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Katie Boulter, who is seeded 26 and the sole Brit in the women’s main draw, has landed in the fourth quarter where she awaits either Italian wild-card Georgia Pedone or a qualifier to get herself off the mark.

Three Brits have been battling in the qualifying for places in the main draw, but both Harriet Dart and Heather Watson had already lost their opening matches as the main draw was being made, with Yuriko Lily Miyazaki waiting to get on court on Monday.

Dart, seeded 10th in qualifying, went down to Rebecca Sramkova, 6-2 6-3, while Watson lost to Bernarda Pera, 7-6(0) 6-3.


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