There’s no let up for the top women on the tour with the Italian Open coming hot on the heels of Madrid. Petra Kvitova will not be competing in Rome after winning in Madrid while Serena Williams will also be absent, not feeling ready to return just yet. It will also mark the final tournament for the Italian veteran Roberta Vinci.
Having lost a marathon three setter against Karolina Pliskova in Madrid, Victoria Azarenka may have been hoping for an easier welcoming in Rome. Unfortunately for her, she begins against Naomi Osaka with Simona Halep up for the winner. Despite failing to defend her Madrid title, Halep will remain among the favourites here. The World No.1 must also go deep again if she is to have any chance of ensuring she remains at the top spot going into the French Open.
Assuming an inspired Azarenka doesn’t turn up, she has a fairly routine run to the quarter finals with Madison Keys looking like one of the more vulnerable seeds about. Caroline Garcia and Sloane Stephens look much tougher prospects once there though. Stephens did only make the third round in Madrid and was mostly outplayed by Karolina Pliskova but is still a fairly competent player on clay. Meanwhile, Garcia had a surprise run to the semi finals and will be somewhat disappointed to have not made it further given her opponent was the unseeded Kiki Bertens.
Garbine Muguruza looks to bounce back after her early exit in Madrid. While Daria Kasatkina is far from the easiest third round opponent, the third seed will have expected better in her home tournament. The draw has done her a favour with the in-form player of the moment Petra Kvitova withdrawing. The Czech will be replaced by a lucky loser and will play Johanna Konta first. Despite being a French Open winner, Muguruza has not had huge success on clay otherwise and is yet to make another clay final of any tournament ranking.
She is 3-1 against the highest other seed in the section with two of the wins over Jelena Ostapenko coming at this tournament in the past two years. Maria Sharapova continues to struggle and will not have it her own way against 16th seed Ashleigh Barty to begin with. She moves back into the top 50 on Monday but looks far from a contender with the French Open coming up soon. She lost in the quarter finals to Kiki Bertens, failing to convert a one set lead against the eventual finalist.
Last year’s winner Elina Svitolina will not have it easy if she wants to return to the final, with a number of top players in her quarter. The winner of the expected second round between Kiki Bertens and Karolina Pliskova looks the mostly likely to advance to the quarter finals there. Pliskova had showed a lot of improvement on clay with a run to the semi finals. Kvitova ended the hopes of both Pliskova and Bertens, who had a career week in making the final. Bertens may have run out of steam after a tough week but has established herself as a top player on the surface this week. The projected third round between Svitolina and Kasatkina should offer Kasatkina her best opportunity for a win over the Ukranian. Svitolina, currently 3-0 against Kasatkina, has not yet got going in the clay swing this year with a record of just 2-2. However, the conditions in Rome are likely to be more suited to her than Stuttgart and Madrid were.
Caroline Wozniacki may back her way into the No.1 spot if Simona Halep fails to go well this tournament although a deep run is far from certain for the Dane. Her loss to Kiki Bertens doesn’t look as bad as it first did although the manner of the loss may be concerning. She may well play wildcard Sam Stosur in round two while Anastasija Sevastova is the expected opponent in round three. It could be a great opportunity for Sevastova to go deep here with three seeds who are far from comfortable on a traditional clay surface. CoCo Vandeweghe and Venus Williams are likely to struggle although Vandeweghe’s Stuttgart run is bound to give her confidence. Svetlana Kuznetsova is in disastrous form and has lost eight of her last ten matches but the two time Rome finalist certainly still has the game to make a surprise run out of nowhere.
Prediction – Simona Halep defeats Karolina Pliskova in the final