There is a change of cast and stage this week, as Simona Halep takes on the role of top seed at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in the absence of World No 1 Ashleigh Barty, and Karolina Pliskova wears the mantel of second seed, headlining a main draw on the clay courts of Rome that features six Top 10 players.
I regretfully must withdraw from the Internazionali BNL d’Italia due to an Achilles strain. I’m so humbled by the continuous support from my fans in Rome and I look forward to making my return soon. Serena Williams
Serena Williams leads the other big-name withdrawals, namely 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu and two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, while Naomi Osaka, the newly-crowned US Open champion, is also absent.
Williams withdrew from the tournament due to a foot injury after picking up an Achilles pull during her US Open semi-final defeat at the hands of Victoria Azarenka on Thursday, but insisted after the match that she just ‘overstretched’ and ‘it will be fine’, but it is seemingly serious enough to keep her out of this week’s WTA Premier 5 event in Rome.
“I regretfully must withdraw from the Internazionali BNL d’Italia due to an Achilles strain,” she said in a statement. “I’m so humbled by the continuous support from my fans in Rome and I look forward to making my return soon.”
Andreescu is still suffering from a knee injury, while Kvitova has given no reason for her decision to skip the tournament.
“Unfortunately, I have made the tough decision to withdraw from Rome this year,” the Czech said. “It is always one of my favourite places to visit and I really look forward to being back in Italy next year.
“I wish the tournament every success and congratulate them on all their hard work to put on a safe event.”
Monday marks the return to action of Halep, Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic, and a host of intriguing rematches involving Elena Rybakina, Coco Gauff and Ons Jabeur.
Wimbledon champion Halep and two-time Rome champion Svitolina both sat out the past month’s US hardcourt swing, as did No 5 seed Kiki Bertens, No 6 seed Belinda Bencic and former Roland Garros winners Jelena Ostapenko and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Of that list only Halep, who won the Prague title a month ago, and Kuznetsova, who lost her opener in Istanbul this week, have officially competed since the Tour shutdown in March.
All are present and correct in the Italian capital, though, with Svitolina and Bertens projected to meet in the third quarter-final and Kuznetsova lurking as an unseeded floater in their section.
Bertens must also navigate past a third-round in which she could face either Roland Garros finalist and No 12 seed Marketa Vondrousova or the rising Polish teenager Iga Swiatek.
World No 2 Halep, meanwhile, will face either the tricky wiles of Anastasija Sevastova or local favourite Jasmine Paolini in the second round to kick off her campaign, before meeting whoever emerges from a particularly explosive section of the draw: No 16 seed Donna Vekic will clash with 19-year-old Amanda Anisimova in the first round, and the winner of that will need to survive a blitz of power from either Dayana Yastremska or Camila Giorgi to book a date with Halep.
Among the raft of must-see first-round clashes is a popcorn 4th encounter between No 9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza and former World No 3 Sloane Stephens.
The latter holds a 2-1 lead in their rivalry to date, having won their most recent meeting in the 4th round of Roland Garros 2019.
Elsewhere, there are plethora of rematches from this season alone.
No 10 seed Elena Rybakina takes on Ekaterina Alexandrova for the third time, having lost to the Russian in both the Shenzhen final and the first round of Cincinnati; Australian Open quarter-finalist Ons Jabeur will seek to complete some unfinished business against Coco Gauff, to whom she lost a 6-4, 4-2 lead in the Lexington quarter-finals last month, with the winner going straight up against either Muguruza or Stephens; and Victoria Azarenka, finalist at the US Open on Saturday, faces 1999 Rome champion Venus Williams, who beat her in the Lexington first round, in a second opener in as many months.
The third former winner at the Foro Italico in this year’s draw is defending champion Karolina Pliskova, straight off a disappointing second-round exit at the US Open to Caroline Garcia.
Matters haven’t got much easier for the No 2 seed, who will face either compatriot Barbora Strycova or her Cincinnati conqueror two weeks ago, Veronika Kudermetova, in the second round.
Elsewhere, No 3 seed Sofia Kenin will open against the winner of Williams and Azarenka, with No 15 seed Angelique Kerber projected to await in the third round and a quarter-final against whoever survives the stacked section featuring Muguruza, Stephens, Gauff, Jabeur and No 7 seed Johanna Konta, last year’s runner-up, looming.
Meanwhile, the 4th quarter finds Pliskova drawn against No 6 seed Bencic in the last 8, if the Swiss player successfully navigates a portion of the draw that includes Ostapenko, No 11 seed Elise Mertens, fresh off the US Open quarter-finals, and the wiles of the returning Hsieh Su-Wei.
Live action starts on Amazon Prime Video at 10 am BST.