WTA Internazionali BNL d'Italia Preview

In the final Premier event ahead of Roland Garros, the 2016 Internazionali BNL d'Italia plays host to an illustrious field of seven of the world's top 10, with the likes of Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Garbiñe Muguruza and Victoria Azarenka all headlining action in the Italian capital.

First Quarter: Featuring Williams, Halep

The first quarter is headlined by world number one Serena Williams and newly-crowned Mutua Madrid Open champion and world number five Simona Halep, with the likes of Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova sandwiched in between to make for an enticing quarter of tennis.

Serena Williams reacts during her second round match at the 2016 Miami Open against Zarina Diyas. | Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images North America
Serena Williams reacts during her second round match at the 2016 Miami Open against Zarina Diyas. | Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images North America

Williams will be playing her first match since an unexpected exit to an inspired Kuznetsova in Miami, a tournament she has won a record eight times. After being forced to withdraw from Madrid due to illness, the world number one will be looking to kickstart her clay court campaign ahead of her title defence at the year's second major: the French Open. Williams will open her campaign against either Anna-Lena Friedsam--whom she defeated en route to her third French Open crown 12 months ago--or Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

After crashing out to qualifier Laura Siegemund in Stuttgart, Halep rebounded nicely in Madrid, surviving an upset-ridden draw to capture her first title in the Spanish capital. The former French Open finalist will be coming into this tournament with plenty of confidence, and is a clear force to be reckoned with. The Romanian will open her campaign against either Sabine Lisicki or Daria Gavrilova, both dangerous oppositions for completely different reasons.

Simona Halep poses with the winner's trophy after winning the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe
Simona Halep poses with the winner's trophy after winning the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Other players in this section include 9th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, 13th seed Ana Ivanovic and world number 22 Samantha Stosur, all looking to build on decent starts to the season.

Semifinalist: Williams

Though Williams still comes into this tournament as one of the favourites, her form is still in question, but she certainly has the capabilities to go all the way in the Italian capital.

Second Quarter: Featuring Azarenka, Vinci

The second quarter is headlined by fourth seed Victoria Azarenka and Italy's very own Roberta Vinci, seeded seventh, with 10th seed Lucie Safarova and 16th seed Karolina Pliskova all looking to fight for a place in the last four.

Victoria Azarenka chasing down a shot during her second round match at the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe
Victoria Azarenka chasing down a shot during her second round match at the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Azarenka has had an incredible start to the season, going 26-1 on the season. However, a low back injury forced the Belarusian to withdraw from her third round match with American qualifier Louisa Chirico. After deciding to play Rome, it is likely that the former world number one will take more precautions ahead of Roland Garros, and will open her campaign against either Margarita Gasparyan or Irina-Camelia Begu.

Winning just six matches in her last 11 visits to the Italian capital, it is a known fact that Vinci has never done well in Rome, but will be looking to change that in what could be her final appearance--if she stays true to her decision to retire at the end of the season. Italy's hopes will rest heavily on their highest-ranked player when she takes on either Johanna Larsson or Johanna Konta.

Roberta Vinci follows through on a forehand during her first round match at the 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts
Roberta Vinci follows through on a forehand during her first round match at the 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts

Other players in this section include 10th seed Lucie Safarova, 16th seed Karolina Pliskova, WTA Rising Star Daria Kasatkina and France's Alizé Cornet.

Semifinalist: Azarenka

Though the Belarusian might be injured, she is the more logical pick given her great form in 2016, and the recent struggles of every player in her section.

Third Quarter: Featuring Muguruza, Suárez Navarro

The third quarter is headlined by third seed Garbiñe Muguruza and eighth seed Carla Suárez Navarro, two of Spain's biggest hopes heading into the second major of the season, with 11th seed Timea Bacsinszky and 15th seed Elina Svitolina not far behind.

Garbiñe Muguruza follows through on a backhand during her second round match at the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open, a match she would go on to lose. | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Garbiñe Muguruza follows through on a backhand during her second round match at the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open, a match she would go on to lose. | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

After another early exit in front of her home fans in the Spanish capital of Madrid, Muguruza is still searching for the form that saw her reach her maiden Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and qualify for the WTA Finals last season. The Spanish number one will be looking to gain some much-needed confidence when she opens her campaign against either Ekaterina Makarova or Danka Kovinic.

After falling in the quarterfinals of Madrid last week, Suárez Navarro will be looking to redeem herself by going one step further from her runner-up showing last year, where she lost in three sets to Maria Sharapova. She will open her campaign against either Teliana Pereira or Annika Beck.

Carla Suárez Navarro prepares to hit a backhand at the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Carla Suárez Navarro prepares to hit a backhand at the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Other players in this section include the aforementioned Bacsinszky and Svitolina, as well as qualifiers Julia Goerges and Monica Puig.

Semifinalist: Suárez Navarro

With Suárez Navarro's prowess on clay and prior success at the Foro Italico, the Spanish number two is definitely a favourite to make it out of this quarter as the last woman standing.

Fourth Quarter: Featuring Kerber, Kvitova

Last but not least, the fourth and final quarter of the draw is headlined by second seed and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber and fifth seed Petra Kvitova, with 12th seed Venus Williams and 15th seed Sara Errani lurking around the corner as dark horses in this section.

Angelique Kerber kisses the winner's trophy after winning the 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts
Angelique Kerber kisses the winner's trophy after winning the 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts

Ever since her championship-winning run in Melbourne, Kerber has admittedly been a little hot and cold. After winning the Australian Open, the German went on a three-match losing streak before finding her form in Miami, Charleston and Stuttgart--where she successfully defended her title. However, last week, the 28-year-old made a shock exit at the hands of Barbora Strycova, and will be looking to rebound before travelling to Paris. However, she sure has her work cut out for her as she will face either Jelena Jankovic or Eugenie Bouchard to open her sixth appearance at the Italian Open.

Kvitova--on the other hand--is still searching for her form after a poor start to the season that saw her win two matches in her first five tournaments. After another early exit at the hands of Daria Gavrilova, the two-time Wimbledon champion will be looking to bounce back when she take on either Madison Keys or Andrea Petkovic in an enticing second round clash.

Petra Kvitova hits a backhand during the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Petra Kvitova hits a backhand during the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open. | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Other players in this section include Venus Williams and Sara Errani, as well as Italian wild card Karin Knapp and Hungary's Timea Babos.

Semifinalist: Kerber

With the rest of the quarter struggling with form as of late, Kerber's consistency could prove to be the difference when deciding a final spot in the last four.

Predictions

Semifinals: Williams d. Azarenka; Kerber d. Suárez Navarro

Final: Williams d. Kerber

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