Serena, Amelie Among Top Rome Contenders
ROME - For the second straight week, the stars of the WTA Tour will be in Tier I action on the European red clay, this time setting their sights on Rome for the Telecom Italia Masters.
Defending champion Kim Clijsters was expecting a return to the Foro Italico for another title run before she reaggrevated an injury to her left wrist and subsequently was forced to withdraw.
That left 2002 winner Serena Williams as the tournament's top seed and favorite to win her second title of the year. Williams will be playing for the first time since Charleston, where she withdrew midway through the event with an injury to her left knee. Williams missed the last five months of 2003 and first 11 weeks of this year recovering from surgery to that same knee that was performed last August.
Now, with three weeks of rest for her knee, Williams returns for her fourth tournament of the year and will face either veteran Frenchwoman Sandrine Testud or Spain's Maria Sanchez Lorenzo in her second round match.
Amelie Mauresmo got a bit of a break on Sunday in Berlin when she was awarded her first title of the year when Venus Williams was unable to compete in the final due to an ankle injury. Now, the No.2 seed is hoping she can make it back-to-back Tier I titles in Rome.
The Frenchwoman has come close to the Rome title on three separate occasions. In 2000, she lost a straight sets final to Monica Seles and returned to following year to finish runner-up to Jelena Dokic after another loss in two sets. Mauresmo made her third trip to the final last year where she looked well on her way to the title after winning the first set before losing a second set tiebreak and eventually the third set to Clijsters.
Mauresmo will face either countrywoman Nathalie Dechy or Peru's Kristina Brandi in her second round match, but her biggest early-round challenge might come in the third round. Berlin semifinalist Karolina Sprem or No.13 seed Conchita Martinez could possibly await Mauresmo in the round of 16.
Sprem strung together a solid week in Berlin en route to her first Tier I semifinal, while Martinez is a four-time winner in Rome and has a 39-8 career record at the tournament. She has also only loss before the quarterfinals three times in 12 trips to the event.
In her first tournament action since Indian Wells, Anastasia Myskina made it to the quarterfinals in Berlin before she fell to American Jennifer Capriati. This week, Myskina will be the No.3 seed but her first match might be a tough one. Myskina could potentially face Frenchwoman Emilie Loit in the second round, who has already won two titles on clay this year.
No.4 seed Nadia Petrova will try to rebound from a third round loss last week against Paola Suarez when she makes her third main draw appearance in Rome. The young Russian will once again be in search of her first WTA Tour title and will begin her bid for the Rome trophy in the second round where she'll face either American Laura Granville or Italy's Flavia Pennetta.
After taking a thumping in last week's semifinals, No.5 seed Jennifer Capriati would like nothing better than a smooth recovery in Rome. The American got clobbered, 62 60 against Mauresmo in Berlin and will face Maria Vento-Kabchi or a qualifier in her first Rome match. Capriati will be making her 11th appearance in Rome. Her previous best finish was a semifinal in 2002 where she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams.
The Telecom Italia Masters has been played since 1930 and has been a Tier I event on the WTA Tour since 1989. Previous champions include Evonne Goolagong, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Monica Seles, Conchita Martinez, Mary Pierce, Martina Hingis and Venus Williams.
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