World No 1 Iga Swiatek heads a quality field at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, which starts on Tuesday, 9 May, but the 21-year old Pole faces a tough campaign if she is to successfully defend her WTA 1000 title at the Foro Italico, as Elena Rybakina lurks in her half of the draw as a potential quarter-final opponent.
Eighteen of the world’s Top 20 players are taking to the court this week for the second straight WTA 1000 event, with Czech Petra Kvitova, the World No 10, recently withdrawn due to a right foot injury, and Belinda Bencic, the Swiss No 11, also absent with a hip issue.
“I will miss the beautiful site, the Italian fans and wish the tournament a great week,” two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova wrote on Twitter.
Swiatek first won the trophy here in 2021, when she beat Czech Karolina Pliskova, 6-0 6-0, in the final, and she successfully defended the title last year, beating Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, 6-2 6-2.
Fresh from finishing as runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka in the Madrid Open final on Saturday, the top seed has a bye into the 2nd-round, but she could face former World No 11 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia to open her account, who starts her campaign against Italy’s Sara Errani, a former finalist in Paris.
Pavlyuchenkova, who made it to the final at Roland Garros in 2021, has slipped to No 46 in the WTA Rankings as she has struggled with injury, and she entered the main draw using her protected ranking.
World No 16 Liudmila Samsonova is a potential 4th-round opponent should Swiatek make it that far, before Rybakina, the 6th seed, becomes the big hurdle in the Last 8.
Rybakina faces Italian Jasmine Paolini or Xinyu Wang from China in her opener, and the reigning Wimbledon champion also has some dangerous players in her quarter, as she could potentially face 9th seed Maria Sakkari from Greece, or 24th seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada in round 4.
If the form book does hold, then Swiatek and Rybakina will meet for a third time this year, with the World No 1 winning at both the Australian Open and Indian Wells.
Among the other players in the first quarter are two Canadians, Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, and 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, together with two athletes coming back from maternity leave, Barbora Strycova and Elina Svitolina, who won back-to-back Rome titles in 2017 and 2018.
Last year’s runner-up Jabeur, now ranked 7, is the projected semi-finalist to face Swiatek, but the 4th seed is also facing a difficult draw as she could meet Paula Badosa in the 2nd-round, after the Spaniard takes on a qualifier in her opener.
World No 22 Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia could be a 4th-round opponent with compatriot and 8th-seeded Daria Kasatkina projected to reach the quarter-final, although Kasatkina will likely face Czech Barbora Krejcikova first.
There could be a quarter-final matchup between the top two Americans, who are also doubles partners, in the third quarter, if No 3 seed Jessica Pegula and No 6 seed Coco Gauff each hold their seedings and reach the Last 8.
Before that, Gauff could meet No 11 seed and Madrid semi-finalist Veronika Kudermetova from Russia in the Round of 16.
The two have played two 3-setters this year, with Kudermetova winning on the hard courts of Doha, and Gauff avenging that loss on Stuttgart clay.
Pegula’s possible Round of 16 opponent might be Pliskova, the 13th seed, who has posted some of the best results of her career at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, the former World No 1 having won the Rome title in 2019 and finishing as the runner-up in both 2020 and 2021.
The bottom half of the draw is headlined by Sabalenka, the Australian Open and Madrid Open champion, who will face either America’s Sofia Kenin or Cristina Bucsa from Spain in the 2nd-round.
Another former Australian Open champion, fellow-Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, might await Sabalenka in the Round of 16 if seedings hold, but the 2016 Rome finalist and No 19 seed, American Madison Keys, also waits in this section.
No 5 seed Caroline Garcia from France sits at the other end of this quarter, and she might face Madrid quarter-finalist Petra Martic from Croatia in the 3rd-round and No 12 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil in the Round of 16.
Meanwhile, with Emma Raducanu sidelined after having undergone surgery to her right wrist and ankle, British interests rested on Harriet Dart, who took part in qualifying on Monday but fell in the 1st-round to Australia’s Priscilla Hon, 6-1 2-6 2-6, after failing to build on a strong opening set.
The 24-year-old British No 2 lost in 2 hours and 14 minutes, despite conjuring up 14 break points over the duration of the match, but Hon impressively saved 11 of them as she completed a stellar fight-back.