After last weekend’s festivities, Moo’s Tennis Blog is back with a full tournament preview and accompanying first round previews (tomorrow) for the 2015 Internazionali BNL D’Italia in Rome. The tennis in Madrid has been superb this week, but the tournament bugs me big time with their scheduling and general lack of respect for the WTA. I always enjoy Rome and it is commonly said that the conditions are most similar to that of Roland Garros. The draw looks intriguing with some superb first rounders and potentially devilish second rounders… sorry, Caro. Note that the top eight seeds all have byes into the second round. Let’s take a look at the draw…
As always, Serena Williams headlines the draw and arrives in Rome having suffered her first defeat of the year to Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals of Madrid. It was a surprising defeat as Serena had never lost to Petra and had looked so sharp at the start of the week. Serena’s first match of the week in Rome will be against either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Sam Stosur. Both players reached the third round in Madrid and have had excellent results on the clay, particularly Stosur. Serena is projected to meet Sara Errani in the third round in what would be a rematch of last year’s final. Serena and Sara met in Fed Cup action a few weeks ago where Errani came surprisingly close to the victory, eventually falling, 4-6 7-6(3) 6-3. Errani’s first round match against Daniela Hantuchova appears an ideal opener with Daniela on a four match losing streak, but the 32-year-old Slovak did win their last encounter at the start of the year in Auckland.
This first quarter is packed with quality first round matches and the most eye-catching of those features Karolina Pliskova and Timea Bacsinszky, two of the in-form players in 2015. The winner of that match will progress through to the second round to contest the victor of another intriguing first rounder between Sloane Stephens and Sabine Lisicki. The top eight seed in this section is Ana Ivanovic, who will meet Belinda Bencic or a qualifier in her first match of the week. Ivanovic had an encouraging week in Madrid where she notched up two wins and played a pretty decent match against Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round. Losing against Carla is by no means a disgrace. Her footwork was not quite there, but there were signs she may have turned a corner after a stuttering and injury-plagued first four months of the year.
Victoria Azarenka continues to wreak havoc with the draws this year and for the third time this year, it looks like Caroline Wozniacki drew the short straw. Azarenka plays Casey Dellacqua in the first round; the Aussie is on a six match losing streak on the WTA tour stretching back to Dubai where she lost a lengthy match against Lucie Safarova, 7-5 in the decider. If Azarenka wins that match, she will play Wozniacki in the second round. In their two previous encounters this year Azarenka wrapped up straight set wins with pretty dominant displays. To add to the draw woes, Angelique Kerber has also been bundled into this eighth of the draw. The champion of Charleston and Stuttgart lost her first match in Madrid to Sam Stosur although it’s fair to say she was probably still fatigued from that awesome run.
The winner of that tasty Wozniacki-Kerber-Azarenka section is projected to play Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals. After coming through two tight three setters against Caroline Garcia and Caroline Wozniacki in Madrid, Sharapova came unstuck against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semi-finals of Madrid. Her opponent played great, but Sharapova was well below her best and needs more matches in Rome it would seem to set herself up for Paris. Sharapova’s first match will be against either Jarmila Gajdosova or a qualifier and she could be in line for third round rematch with Garcia. The Frenchwoman would first have to get through a qualifier and then take out a Madison in the second round with the two Madisons, Madison Keys and Madison Brengle set to play in the first round.
The third quarter is the most open with the likes of Petra Kvitova, Eugenie Bouchard, Carla Suarez Navarro and Jelena Jankovic. Kvitova, who won her second Madrid title, will play an Italian in the first round, either Karin Knapp or Francesca Schiavone. Jankovic is returning to the tour for the first time since Charleston due to a foot injury. She’s been dealt a toughie with Camila Giorgi in the first round. This is the one match that is giving me dilemmas. Giorgi can zone against anyone and will be playing in front of a home crowd. Jankovic could be rusty but then again, she lovessss Rome and always performs well here. Bouchard is having a tough time of it and is currently on a six match losing streak. Her first match of the week will be against Zarina Diyas or Tsvetana Pironkova. You have to think she snaps out of her funk soon, but i’m not sure if it will be here. I’d back Carla, who plays Mona Barthel in the first round, to sweep through this section.
Simona Halep should be well rested and ready for clay court tennis in Rome after a first round exit to Alize Cornet in Madrid. She will play either Alison Riske or Varvara Lepchenko in the second round. If she reaches the third round, her opponent will come from a brutal quartet featuring four top 25 players with first round matches featuring Venus Williams up against Garbine Muguruza and Flavia Pennetta playing Elina Svitolina. The other top eight seed in this section is Ekaterina Makarova, who could face a Madrid rematch with the finalist, Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova thrashed Makarova, 6-2 6-1 in the first round of Madrid. Kuznetsova could also meet Lucie Safarova in the third round. Safarova, who will open against two qualifiers, is playing in Rome for the first time since 2011 as it had always previously clashed with the ITF event in Prague, which has now been upgraded to a WTA event. This eighth will all depend on whether Kuznetsova has anything left in the tank but after the Madrid final, it wouldn’t be a surprise if she pulls out. Safarova is probably the favourite to reach the quarters although there are likely to be some pretty handy qualifiers..
Quarter-final predictions: S.Williams v Pliskova, Sharapova v Azarenka, Suarez Navarro v Kvitova and Safarova v
Semi-final predictions: S.Williams v Sharapova, Suarez Navarro v Halep
Final Prediction: S.Williams d. Halep