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Women’s Preview: Top players line-up in Rome

The WTA Tour hot-foots it from Madrid to Rome for Internazionali BNL d’Italia, which starts on Monday where the defending champion is Simona Halep and players will be making their last-minute preparations for the season’s second Grand Slam, at Roland Garros.

The women’s singles draw is done, with a field chock full of talent headed by Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Halep and the latest title winner, Aryna Sabalenka to name but a few.

For the first time since the Australian Open, all of the tour’s marquee names are on hand, with the return of Serena Williams as she resumes her quest for that all-elusive 24th Grand Slam title in Paris.

Serena, who is a four-time champion in Rome, competes for the first time since her Australian Open semi-final loss to Osaka, and will open against either Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska from Argentina or a qualifier, before a projected third-round meeting with Swiss No 10 seed Belinda Bencic.

If she comes through, she faces a major possible quarter-final hurdle in a re-match with Osaka, the World No 2.

The Japanese, whose best showing here was a quarter-final run in 2019, begins her campaign against either Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, a two-time titlist at the Phillip Island Trophy and St. Petersburg this year, or the surging Australian Open quarter-finalist Jessica Pegula from the USA, and then could meet another American in Jennifer Brady, the No 13 seed.

Also returning to action is Bianca Andreescu after a foot injury forced her to retire during the Miami final against Barty, who is in Halep’s section, where Petra Kvitova and Jo Konta also lurk.

The Canadian opens against either Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova or Jil Teichmann from Switzerland, both of whom are in form and able to weave magic on clay.

The first seed that Halep could face is Konta, No 16, but the Brit has to get past Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko first, while the second-highest seed is the Canadian at No 6, who will be making her clay debut.

First up for the Romanian World No 3, though, is the winner between Germany’s Angelique Kerber and a yet to be determined qualifier, with the Czech Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 Roland Garros finalist, as an unseeded dark horse in the same section.


Naomi Osaka, the No 2 seed in Rome, hopes to improve on her best quarter-final showing in 2019

© Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Top seed Barty continues her road trip, playing her 5th tournament since March, and could well meet Aryna Sabalenka in her quarter, the woman the Aussie has already played 3 times this spring.

Fresh off a loss to the Belarusian in the Mutua Madrid Open on Saturday, Barty receives a bye in the first round, as do all the top 8 seeds, and faces a projected third-round match against No 14 seed Elise Mertens.

Sabalenka, meanwhile, has stumbled into one of the toughest sections of the draw, with a possible opening against the indefatigable defence of Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo in a rematch of their memorable Ostrava contest last autumn.

The Belarusian’s last-16 opponent will be the survivor of two of the most exciting first-round matchups in the draw in a battle of former champions, with the 2019 winner Karolina Pliskova, the 9th seed from the Czech Republic, taking on American 1999 champion Venus Williams, and the winner facing either Coco Gauff from the US or Kazakstan’s Yulia Putintseva in the second round.

Elsewhere, there could be a rematch of last year’s Roland Garros final as early as the third round, with No 4 seed Sofia Kenin from the USA projected to clash with Poland’s No 15 seed Iga Swiatek, with Czech Madrid quarter-finalist Karolina Muchova lurking as a potential dark horse in this section.

Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, the 12th seed, who was forced to withdraw from her home tournament in Madrid due to a left thigh injury, has a draw studded with landmines from the get-go, opening against Madrid semi-finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia, with Greece’s Maria Sakkari potentially awaiting in the second round and Ukrainian No 5 seed Elina Svitolina in the third.

Play starts on Monday and can be viewed on Prime Video in the UK.


The trophy ceremony at the Italian Open at the Foro Italico in September 2020 in Rome, Italy

© Riccardo Antimiani/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Projected third round matches

  • [1] Ashleigh Barty vs. [14] Elise Mertens
  • [9] Karolina Pliskova vs. [7] Aryna Sabalenka
  • [4] Sofia Kenin vs. [15] Iga Swiatek
  • [12] Garbiñe Muguruza vs. [5] Elina Svitolina
  • [6] Bianca Andreescu vs. [11] Petra Kvitova
  • [16] Johanna Konta vs. [3] Simona Halep
  • [8] Serena Williams vs. [10] Belinda Bencic
  • [13] Jennifer Brady vs. [2] Naomi Osaka

Click HERE to view the full draw.




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