Rome | Preview: Big guns to line up in the Eternal City

As Madrid reaches its climax this weekend, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, the second consecutive WTA 1000 clay-court event featuring 18 of the world’s Top 20 players, will start on Tuesday 7 May in the 81st edition of the event.

This is the last major clay-court tournament before the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris, and, like Madrid, is being held with an expanded format over two weeks, an innovation that has drawn criticism from some top players.

It is also a joint event running simultaneously on the ATP and WTA tours, although there still remains a prize money discrepancy that organisers say will be addressed by 2025.

The women’s field has some notable absentees, though, namely World No 12 Karolina Muchova, who continues to nurse a wrist injury, and No 58 Petra Kvitova who is on pregnancy leave, and were not on the initial entry list.

World No 5 Jessica Pegula and 2019 champion Karolina Pliskova withdrew on Friday due to continuing injuries.

Grand Slam champions inside the projected Top 16 seeds are Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff, Elena Rybakina, Marketa Vondrousova and Jelena Ostapenko.

Swiatek will bid to win her 3rd title at the Foro Italiano, while Aryna Sabalenka, who is contesting this year’s Madrid final alongside the Pole, will target improvement from a 2nd-round defeat 12 months ago when she lost to Sofia Kenin.

Elena Rybakina, the World No 4, recently shared her disapproval of the changes in the schedule because the tournaments are coming too thick and fast, but she cannot afford any lapses in concentration if she is to defend her title successfully.

It was Rybakina’s second WTA 1000 title of her career in Rome last year, when she defeated Anhelina Kalinina in the final 6-4, 1-0, after the Ukrainian was forced to retired with a left thigh injury.

Coco Gauff, the World No 3 who could have escalated to No 2 last week but now must wait, has to rediscover her form ahead of Roland Garros, while the likes of Maria Sakkari, Qinwen Zheng, Marketa Vondrousova, Ons Jabeur, and Jelena Ostapenko will try to capitalise should any of the big guns misfire.

A general view of the main show court of the Internazionali BNL D'Italia at Foro Italico

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Among the other notable names entered include former World No 1s Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, both of whom used special rankings to enter the main draw after they each came back from maternity leave this January.

Other Grand Slam champions in the main-draw field are Victoria Azarenka, Barbora Krejcikova, Sloane Stephens, Sofia Kenin, as well as Osaka and Kerber.

Britain’s Emma Raducanu, the 2021 US Open champion, though, looks set to miss Rome next week, and has opted to follow an alternative schedule ahead of the French Open after pulling out of qualifying.

Raducanu has entered Internationaux de Strasbourg instead, although she might still receive a late wild-card from the organisers.

Her hopes of landing a wild-card for Roland Garros, which starts on 26 May, are slim, but she still has an outside chance of entering the main draw should 4 players ahead of her withdraw.

British No 1 Katie Boulter, who is now ranked 28 in the world, is a direct entry and will be seeded in Rome.

The tournament has allocated a total prize money package of $5,509,771 (approximately €5,137,310), which is considerably higher than last year and the largest pool in Italian Open history.

The champion will collect the largest share of the total prize money, €699,690, in addition to 1000 ranking points, while the runner-up will take home €365,015 and 650 points.

Players who lose in the semi-final stage will also make 6 figures, €192,405, and they will also receive 390 points, while the quarterfinalists will earn €99,160 and receive 215 points.

With the tournament running for two weeks, players must win 4 rounds to reach the quarter-final. Those who stumble in the 1st-round will pocket €10,495, and receive 10 points.

Winning at least one match will boost their earnings up to €16,965, and raise their points to 25.

Players who string two successive wins at the tournament are guaranteed to walk away with €30,435 and 65 points.

The singles main draw contains 96 players, including 8 wild-cards and 12 qualifiers, with the 32 seeded players all receiving 1st-round byes.

The singles final will take place Saturday, 18 May, not before 5 pm.

2023 doubles champions Elise Mertens & Storm Sanders Hunter in Rome, Italy.

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images

The doubles main draw will have 32 teams, including 3 wild-card pairings, and the doubles final will be held on Sunday, 19 May, not before 1.30pm.

Gauff and Pegula were planning to reunite in the doubles but the 30-year-old’s undisclosed injury means she has not played since the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers in April, when she helped the USA ease past Belgium and reach the Finals in Seville.

Pegula’s absence from the tour has forced Gauff to search for a new doubles partner, and, in Madrid, she joined forces with compatriot Taylor Townsend to reach the quarter-finals, but, in Rome, the 20-year-old is teaming up with Erin Routliffe.

The New Zealander has a career-high ranking of World No 5 in doubles, and captured her maiden Grand Slam doubles title with Gabriela Dabrowski at last year’s US Open.

Last year’s Rome doubles title was won by Storm Hunter & Elise Mertens, who beat the top seeds, Gauff & Pegula, in the final, 6-4 6-4.

Both singles and doubles draws will take place on Monday, 6 May, from 11am.

The cut-off for singles direct entry was based on rankings of Monday, 8 April 8, and Ashlyn Krueger, ranked . 69, was the last direct entry at that time.



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