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WTA Ladies Tennis From Rome • Internazionali BNL d’Italia Preview And Picks From Thomas @10sBalls

Maria Sharapova of Russia serves the ball to Christina McHale of the US during their first round match for the Italian Open tennis tournament at the Foro Italico in Rome, Italy, 15 May 2017. EPA/ETTORE FERRARI



As the final major stop on the Road to Roland Garros, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia serves as a pivotal time ahead of the French Open for the WTA. After three major lead-up events on the green clay of Charleston, indoors in Stuttgart, and in the altitude of Madrid, no tournament mimics the conditions of the second major of the season in Paris quite like Rome. With the slow, red clay-courts of the Foro Italico, experience on the dirt and confidence in one’s game will be pivotal and this WTA Premier 5 stop in Rome will reveal who the true favorites for the French Open are.


First quarter

Leading the top quarter and leading the way this entire season, world number one Simona Halep will look to go one better than her runner-up showing here last year, opening against the blockbuster showdown of the first round between 2013 finalist Victoria Azarenka and Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka.


Halep will have to be sharp early with the unseeded Azarenka looming in her first match, however her quarter is comfortable from there on. In the third round the Romanian could face big-hitting American Madison Keys, who despite reaching the final here in 2016, has struggled the last few months and has never posted her best results on clay. Seventh seed Caroline Garcia, a semifinalist last week in Madrid, could face Halep in the last eight, however the Frenchwoman could have to get past reigning US Open and Miami champion Sloane Stephens in the third round.

Semifinalist: Halep


Second quarter

Possibly the weakest section of this draw, the second quarter is headlined by two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza and defending French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, who has struggled with consistency this season and fell first round last week in Madrid. Muguruza, the 2016 winner at Roland Garros, opens against either Daria Gavrilova or Natalia Vikhlyantseva before a potential blockbuster third round meeting. In the other section of the Spaniard’s draw lies three-time Rome champion Maria Sharapova, who opens against 16th seed Ashleigh Barty, and the winner could then face either 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, who is retiring at home this week in Rome, or Dominika Cibulkova.


After Madrid champion Petra Kvitova’s withdrawal, Magdalena Rybarikova takes her place as the 17th seed and faces Brit Johanna Konta first before potentially getting Ostapenko, who will be looking to take advantage of a comfortable draw, in the third round.


While Muguruza and Ostapenko both have played brilliantly on the clay the last few seasons, neither big-hitters are in the best form and after Sharapova’s impressive run to the quarters last week in Madrid, look for the two-time French Open champion to go deep once again in Rome.

Semifinalist: Sharapova


Third quarter

Leading the third quarter is the defending champion in the Eternal City, fourth seed Elina Svitolina and Stuttgart champion and Madrid semifinalist Karolina Pliskova. While Svitolina has enjoyed her best results on clay in the past, the Ukrainian hasn’t posted any major runs on the dirt this season, and she’ll possibly have to get past countrywoman Lesia Tsurenko or Petra Martic in her first match before a potential meeting with Indian Wells finalist Daria Kasatkina. If Svitolina can utilize her strong defense and movement well this week, the defending champion should fare well in this quarter.


One of the biggest surprises of this clay-court season, sixth-seed Karolina Pliskova has played her best tennis of the year on the dirt despite her big serve and power game. The big-hitting Czech has a difficult opening match potentially, with Charleston champion and Madrid finalist Kiki Bertens a possible second round opponent. Pliskova could also have to get past former number one Angelique Kerber, who is returning from an injury in Stuttgart, in the third round, but expect Pliskova to set up a blockbuster meeting with Svitolina in the last eight.

Semifinalist: Svitolina


Fourth quarter

Finally the fourth quarter of the draw is led by second seed Caroline Wozniacki and eighth seed Venus Williams, two players who have struggled on clay recently. For Wozniacki, the Dane hasn’t won a match in Rome in several years and could open against former French Open finalist Samantha Stosur, a dangerous player on the dirt. Tricky Latvian Anastasija Sevastova awaits for the winner of that match, making the Dane’s prospects of reaching the last eight unlikely.


For Williams, the seven-time major winner opens against either Elena Vesnina or Laura Siegemund, before a potential meeting with former Roland Garros winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2016 Rome quarterfinalist Anett Kontaveit, or 12th-seeded American Coco Vandeweghe in the third round. Vandeweghe, a finalist in Stuttgart a few weeks ago, has struggled on the slow clay of Rome, and Kontaveit will be a difficult opponent given her clay court prowess and powerful game, reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart and the last eight in Rome in 2017.

Semifinalist: Kontaveit



Semifinals: Halep def. Sharapova, Svitolina def. Kontaveit

Final: Halep def. Svitolina

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