Italian Open Preview: Bello Vederti Serena!

While Justine Henin amped up her game in the third set to edge out Sam Stosur in the finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart today, many of the top players in the WTA prepared for opening round action at the Italian Open. With Henin not playing in Rome and Stosur a last minute withdrawal from the event, it gives the rest of the field a chance to find their games and perhaps a little confidence as the French Open looms. And yes, we will finally see Serena Williams appear on a tennis court after last watching her late January in Melbourne. But how she plays this week could have an impact far into the rest of the year.

With Henin and Stosur being the most in form players at the moment on the dirt, it’s probably a safe guess that most of the field is glad not to see either this week. Serena Williams comes in as the top seed and she benefits from Stosur’s absence as the Australian was in her side of the draw. Another one who should take advantage is Svetlana Kuznetsova who crashed out of Stuttgart and has had a mediocre 2010. Even if Williams is rusty and still feeling lingering effects from her leg injury, her draw, which includes Kuznetsova, is so mild that she should have no problems getting through. However her potential meeting with sister Venus Williams in the semifinals may not happen as Venus has to contend with Jelena Jankovic and Shahar Peer on her side of things.

The other side of the draw has No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, who’s dealing with her own lingering injuries, having to face a pair of Italians Flavia Pennetta or Francesca Schiavone early on. On paper Wozniacki should prevail, but she’s looked shaky as of late and I like either one of the Italians, especially with the home crowd support, to sneak into the semis. The final section has defending champion Dinara Safina trying to regain momentum after her long injury break since Australia possibly taking on Elena Dementieva in the quarters. But with a slew of players (Ana Ivanovic, Victoria Azarenka and Nadia Petrova) who all need a good run of their own, look for a Russian other than Safina to get through.

At the end of the day, with Henin and Stosur not playing, it almost feels like that whoever wins Rome will be considered the third wheel so to speak as the ladies make the final turn for Roland Garros. Even if Serena doesn’t win her maiden Italian Open, she’ll want to make a deep run to get her game in the groove if she wants to challenge for Paris. And as we know, if anyone loves to prove everybody wrong, it’s the “Regina di Tennis”.

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