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WTA Rome Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2019 draw preview and predictions: Four-time champion Serena Williams returns

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 11 May 2019
  • Internazionali BNL d'Italia draw released
  • Serena Williams returns for the first time since 2016 and could face sister Venus, Simona Halep
  • Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2019 tennis is live from Rome from 13-19 May
Serena Williams returns to the Internazionali BNL d'Italia for the first time since claiming her fourth title in 2016

Four-time champion Serena Williams could face sister Venus, Sloane Stephens at the 2019 Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

We break down the draw for the 2019 International BNL d’Italia, analyse the favourites’ chances and predict the semifinalists, finalists and champions at the second WTA Premier-5 event of the season, played at Rome’s Foro Italico from 13-19 May.

Defending champion Elina Svitolina comes in short on form after a knee injury but opportunity is there in the bottom half of the draw, while Naomi Osaka, Kiki Bertens, Serena Williams and Simona Halep are all in the top half and set to clash in Rome, the last big tournament ahead of the French Open.

We break down the draw and predict the semifinalists.

Top quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Naomi Osaka (1) vs Kiki Bertens (6) (1-1)

Carla Suarez Navarro (PA Sport)
Naomi Osaka has already won more matches on clay in 2019 than she did in the entirety of 2018, making the semifinals in Stuttgart and the quarterfinals in Madrid. But her clay-court game remains a work in progress and one would expect Rome to be much more challenging for her than the conditions in Madrid, which favour power players who like to keep points short.

Osaka will start against one of two players she beat in Madrid, either Aliaksandra Sasnovich or more likely Dominika Cibulkova, who I think could be more dangerous to her in Rome than she was at the Caja Magica, and Julia Goerges – newly returned from injury – Su-Wei Hsieh, who beat her in Miami, or the winner of a first-round clash between 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and Mihaela Buzarnescu could all be very tricky in the third round.

Kiki Bertens played very, very well in Madrid, where at the time of writing she has reached the final without dropping a set, and was a semifinalist in Rome in 2017. But it might be too much to expect the Dutch player to produce another deep run after Madrid, although she has the draw for it, opening against a qualifier or wildcard.

There is definitely opportunity for a surprise quarterfinalist. Aryna Sabalenka is Bertens’s third-round opponent, but she hasn’t played terribly well of late and clay isn’t her surface; moreover, she’s up against Dayana Yastremska or Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round. Suarez Navarro was a semifinalist in Rome in 2015; might she take out Bertens, while someone unexpected, perhaps Cibulkova or Buzarnescu, comes through in the top section? There’ll be a surprise semifinalist.

Semifinalist: Suarez Navarro (80/1 @ Ladbrokes to win the tournament)

Second quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Simona Halep (3) vs Sloane Stephens (7) (7-2)

Simona Halep (PA Sport)
A re-match of last year’s thrilling French Open and Montreal finals would be fantastic to see in the quarterfinals, especially on the brink of Roland Garros – what are the chances?

Both women played well in Madrid, especially Halep, who is into the final to face Bertens at the time of writing and could, by the time she plays her first match in Rome, be ranked world no. 1 again. Halep has been a finalist in Rome for the past two years, and she certainly shouldn’t have too much trouble with her opening matches; Marketa Vondrousova (who beat Halep earlier this year on hard courts) and Wang Qiang shouldn’t pose too much of a threat.

Where things could get challenging is the quarterfinals, because not only Stephens but both Williams sisters and Elise Mertens are packed into that section. Four-time Internazionali BNL d’Italia champion Serena couldn’t put back-to-back wins together at Indian Wells and Miami without injury and illness intervening, and she hasn’t played Rome since winning the title in 2016 – and yet you’d definitely pick her against a qualifier in the first round, and over either Venus (who went 1-3 on clay last year and also hasn’t played since Miami) or Mertens, in something of a slump since winning Doha, in the second.

Sloane Stephens played some good tennis (in patches) in Madrid, where she made the semifinals before losing to Bertens, and should beat Johanna Konta in the second round, to set up what would be her first match against Serena in four years. Serena leads the head-to-head 5-1, but they’ve never played on clay. I think Serena wins that one, but loses to Halep in the next round. 

Semifinalist: Halep (5/1 @ Ladbrokes to win the tournament)

Third quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Elina Svitolina (5) vs Karolina Pliskova (4) (3-5)

Karolina Pliskova (PA Sport)
Elina Svitolina is going for her third straight title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where she’s played some absolutely dazzling tennis the past two years. But Svitolina comes in on a three-match losing streak stretching back to the Indian Wells semifinals after a knee injury has kept her off court from Miami until Madrid last week, where she lost in straight sets to Pauline Parmentier.

Svitolina will have a tough ask to open against (probably) the somewhat resurgent Victoria Azarenka, who played good tennis in Madrid to beat Sabalenka but fell to her nemesis Stephens, with some more dangerous opponents in the third round: Caroline Wozniacki is projected by seeding, but seems to be really struggling for fitness at the moment; Garbine Muguruza is struggling for form just as badly, but can always turn it on out of nowhere and has played some good tennis in Rome; and then there’s Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins, Wozniacki’s first-round opponent.

Fourth seed Pliskova has had a frustrating clay season so far, sidelined by illness in Stuttgart and unable to beat qualifier Kateryna Kozlova in Madrid. But she is a good clay-court player and has a decent draw, with Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round and Charleston champion Madison Keys – a former finalist in Rome – an intriguing potential third-round opponent. I like Pliskova to find form and come through, although Keys is also a possibility, but it’s tough to tell who she might meet in the quarterfinals – perhaps Muguruza, against whom Pliskova has a brilliant record? Or Azarenka, who keeps struggling to string wins together?

Semifinalist: Pliskova (16/1 @ Ladbrokes to win the tournament)

Fourth quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Ashleigh Barty (8) vs Petra Kvitova (2) (1-4)

Anett Kontaveit (PA Sport)
An intriguing quarter bracketed by two of the most impressive and in-form players of the season so far, neither of whom you’d necessarily pick to get to the semifinals.

Petra Kvitova, who won Stuttgart but went out in the Madrid quarterfinals to Bertens as the Dutch player avenged her loss in the previous year’s final, has never played well in Rome, going 6-6, and with her draw I don’t think she’s going to be doing much better in 2019: Yulia Putintseva in the second round, Anett Kontaveit in the third (who beat her at the French Open last year) and Donna Vekic, who is quietly having a great season but was unlucky to be injured in Madrid, or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also lurking.

Miami Open champion Barty, meanwhile, played well in Madrid to make the quarterfinals but her clay-court game – like Osaka’s – is still a work in progress and she, too, has plenty of dangerous opponents. Viktoria Kuzmova, who is a very impressive young player despite having been double-bagelled by Halep in Madrid last week, or wildcard Sara Errani, a former French Open and Rome finalist, in the second round; then in the third Barty could meet the classy Anastasija Sevastova, Sevastova’s first-round opponent Belinda Bencic (a semifinalist in Madrid last week and playing great tennis), or Caroline Garcia, unseeded but somewhat looming. 

There’s no way Barty and Kvitova are going to get through all those opponents, so who will come through? Kontaveit was a semifinalist in Rome last year and although she suffered a surprise first-round defeat in Madrid last week, these conditions are much better for her and I honestly think she can and will beat everyone between her and the quarterfinals. I don’t think Bencic’s clay-court game is quite there yet for her to flourish in these conditions, particularly not after a deep run in Madrid, but Garcia, Sevastova or even Kuzmova are in with a real shot. But Kontaveit should beat any of them. 

Semifinalist: Kontaveit (28/1 @ Ladbrokes to win the tournament)

Semifinals: Halep d. Suarez Navarro
Pliskova d. Kontaveit

Final: Halep d. Pliskova

WTA Internazionali BNL d’Italia tennis is live from Rome from 13-19 May 2019

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WTA Rome Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2019 draw preview and predictions: Four-time champion Serena Williams returns

WTA Rome Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2019 draw preview, predictions and tips: Defending champion Elina Svitolina set for Karolina Pliskova clash while Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka look for form

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