Serena Williams returns to the Eternal City.
Welcome back to the clay, Serena Williams. Now ranked No.11, Serena returns to Rome for the first time since winning the title in 2016. Rome will be Serena’s fourth tournament of the season and the first since being forced to withdraw from Miami due to knee injury.
Serena has been drawn into Sloane Stephens’ quarter in the top half of the draw, which also has Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep. She is set to open against a qualifier, a potentially tough opener given the quality of the qualifying field this year, and could face Venus Williams in the second round, though Venus will have her hands full against Elise Mertens.
Should Serena and Venus square off in Rome, it will be their first meeting on European clay in nearly 17 years. Their last meeting on red clay came at the 2002 Roland Garros final.
With Roland Garros two weeks away, the most important win for Serena will be to leave Rome healthy. She has played just three tournaments this season and was unable to finish her last two, retiring in the third round in Indian Wells and withdrawing ahead of her third round in Miami. Here’s hoping her bothersome knee is healthy and happy to be on softer ground.
Madrid redux in the top half of the draw.
Three of the four semifinalists from Madrid are in the top half of the draw, with both finalists, Simona Halep and Kiki Bertens, among them.
Naomi Osaka, who has found her form on the clay after runs to the Stuttgart semifinals and Madrid quarterfinals, has solidified herself as a threat on the surface, though she is still chasing her first Top 20 win on the surface. The top seed this year, Osaka has never progressed past the third round in Rome, but then again, she had never won a main draw match in Stuttgart or Madrid this year. The 21-year-old will be looking to bounce back from a tough loss to Bencic in Madrid, which saw Osaka serve for the match only to lose 7-5 in the third.
The top seed will open against either Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Dominika Cibulkova, both of whom she defeated en route to the Madrid quarterfinals. If Bertens recovers from her physical effort in Madrid, the Dutchwoman could be a stern test for Osaka in the quarterfinals.