For the Full Draw, please click here: WTA Rome 2013 Draw
The Internazionale BNL d”Italia is the second WTA Premier 5 tournament of the year, and one of the most prestigious clay court events in the calendar. First played in 1930, the Italian Open roll of honour features many of the game’s greatest players, including Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Monica Seles and the Williams sisters.
The champion next Sunday will walk away with 900 ranking points and almost €350,000, but perhaps more important for the top players is maintaining momentum for the French Open. Of the top 16, only Marion Bartoli will be missing in action, a fact that guarantees competitive matches from the outset.
Right at the top of the draw is a fascinating first-rounder between Laura Robson and Venus Williams. Robson had her best result in months in Madrid last week, thrashing world number four Agnieszka Radwanska and almost beating Ana Ivanovic in the third round. Having split from her coach, Zelijko Krajan, the young Brit appeared to be playing more freely and with a greater sense of fun, and she will certainly go into the match against Venus believing she can win. The elder Williams sister pulled out of Madrid at the last minute, and will probably not be at full fitness even if she does take to the court in the Italian capital. Robson can win by focusing on her own game and minimising unforced errors. Her reward in round two if she manages to do that? A date with Serena. That would be the biggest clash of Robson’s life, and an excellent test of how her game matches up against the world’s best player.
Also in Serena’s section of the draw are Dominika Cibulkova, the 14th seed, and Ekaterina Makarova, who knocked an aggrieved Victoria Azarenka out of the Madrid Masters. Makarova famously beat Serena at the Australian Open in 2012, but the American doesn’t forget a face, and is unlikely to permit a similar result in Rome. Seeded to meet Serena in the last eight is Angelique Kerber, a quarter-finalist in Madrid. The German faces a tough task in the third round, however, as her opponent is likely to be either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who won the Portugal Open recently and had Azarenka in fits last week, or Carla Suarez Navarro, an accomplished clay courter who defeated Sam Stosur in Madrid.
Predicted quarter-final: Serena v Pavlyuchenkova
Moving on to the second quarter, we find Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska. Li showed promise early on in the clay court season with a run to the final in Stuttgart, but she bombed out of Madrid, winning only five games against American newcomer Madison Keys. A player of Li’s calibre is unlikely to suffer a second successive shock defeat, so she should find a way past either Magdalena Rybarikova or Zheng Jie in the second round. But in the last 16 she could face Caroline Wozniacki or Jelena Jankovic, both of whom enjoy a long rally and know how to keep pressure on their opponents. Wozniacki badly needs an encouraging result in Rome, as she hasn’t yet won a match on red clay this year. Jankovic, having impressed with her appearance in the Charleston final last month, reverted to her more erratic self in Madrid and also went down in the first round.
If Radwanska wants to be talked up as a realistic French Open contender, she too needs to make an impact in Rome. The fourth seed had no answer to Laura Robson’s big hitting last week, and was unlucky to run into a powerful player in good form. But that could happen again this week, as a second round clash with Svetlana Kuznetsova looms. Radwanska hasn’t beaten the Russian since 2008, and won only three games during their French Open clash in 2012. The winner of that match will probably play Roberta Vinci, who will be hoping to get back to winning ways after a surprising loss to Varvara Lepchenko in Madrid.
Predicted quarter-final: Kuznetsova v Li
To say the least, Victoria Azarenka was not best pleased during her first loss of the year in Madrid. Smashing rackets and berating the umpire, the world number three looked rusty and irritable, and will be keen to move on in Rome. Her second round match against either a qualifier or Julia Goerges shouldn’t be too much of a workout given the German’s underwhelming form of late, but in the third round she is seeded to face the in-form Ana Ivanovic, who made the semi-finals in Madrid and appears to be approaching the form that earned her the Roland Garros title five years ago.
Foretelling which player will face Azarenka/Ivanovic in the quarter-finals is no easy task, as the highest-ranked women in that section of the draw are the wildly unpredictable Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur, the eighth and ninth seeds respectively. Kvitova lost to Daniela Hantuchova in the second round in Madrid, and an equally dangerous player – Sabine Lisicki – stands in her way in Rome. Sam Stosur, who suffered two consecutive first round losses in Stuttgart and Madrid, has a relatively easy route to the last 16 through Su-Wei Hsieh, Peng Shuai and Monica Niculescu, but nothing can be taken for granted with the Aussie, and unfortunately another early loss would surprise no one.
Predicted quarter-final: Azarenka v Lisicki
Maria Sharapova’s reputation as one of the best clay court players around is well-established, and she will remain a French Open favourite regardless of her performance in Rome. The defending champion will play a qualifier in the second round, and is seeded to face Sloane Stephens in the last 16, which would be an intriguing match-up. But the young American is slumping in no uncertain terms, and could well go down to local favourite Flavia Pennetta in her opening match.
Sara Errani pushed Serena Williams hard in the first set of their semi-final in Madrid, and will fancy her chances of reaching the quarter-finals in front of her home crowd. After a second rounder against either Karin Knapp or Christina McHale, she will probably play 12th seed Maria Kirilenko or Varvara Lepchenko in the third round. An Errani-Kirilenko clash would be an interesting mix of playing styles, but the little Italian has been rock solid on tour recently, and knows how to draw errors from undisciplined big hitters.
Predicted quarter-final: Errani v Sharapova
Predicted semi-finals: Serena def Li; Sharapova def. Azarenka
Champion: Serena Williams
It will be interesting to see how Victoria Azarenka rebounds from her first loss of the year. The defeat to Makarova was also the first time she has fallen to a player other than Sharapova or Serena since last year’s French Open, and while it’s clear that clay isn’t the Belarusian’s best surface, she is still determined to win every match she plays on the surface. As for the other members of the WTA’s “Big Three”, there is no reason to suspect that Serena and Sharapova, the best players on clay this season by far, will falter in Rome, unless fatigue becomes a factor.
The Italian Open will be the last time we’ll see the elite in action until Roland Garros, so the sport’s queen bees will be aiming to make a big statement ahead of the second Grand Slam of the year. Sharapova certainly won’t give up her title without a fight, but if Serena is in the draw, she’s in to win, and very few players are capable of stopping her.