World number one and three-time Internazionali BNL d'Italia winner Serena Williams begins her campaign for a fourth title in the Eternal City against German Anna-Lena Friedsam. Williams received a bye into the second round while Friedsam fought past Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-4, 7-5 to reach the second round. Williams and Friedsam have met once before, last year in the second round of the French Open where Williams clawed her way back to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Williams' disappointing start to 2016
Williams began her year withdrawing from her opening tournament of the season at Hopman Cup due to a knee injury. At the first major of the year, the Australian Open, Williams made it all the way to the final, before an Angelique Kerber in the form of her life was too much to handle for the world number one, with Kerber taking a maiden Grand Slam title.
The 21-time major champion did not play until Indian Wells, where she again made the title match, but fell short, that time to Victoria Azarenka. In Miami, a tournament Williams had won a record eight times, the American's struggles worsened, losing in the fourth round to an in-form Svetlana Kuznetsova. The world number one was not scheduled to play until Madrid but was forced to withdraw with the flu last week.
Williams' past Rome results
Williams first played in Rome in 1998, where she made it to the quarterfinals, before losing to sister Venus Williams, a result she duplicated the following year. The American claimed her first Italian Open title in 2002, defeating one of her biggest rivals, Justine Henin, in the final. The following year the world number one fell in the last four to Frenchwomen Amelie Mauresmo, repeating the semifinal loss the following year. In 2007 and 2008 the world number one fell in the quarterfinals, bookended by opening match losses in 2005 and 2009.
In 2010 the 21-time major winner fell for the third time in the semifinals, this time to Jelena Jankovic, following up with another last four loss two years later to Chinese star Li Na. After an 11 year drought, Williams claimed a second title in the Eternal City with a straight sets win over Victoria Azarenka in the showpiece match. Williams defended her title in 2014, claiming victory over home player Sara Errani in straight sets. Last year, the American was forced to withdraw after one match with an elbow injury.
With Williams playing in her first clay court match of the season and coming back from illness, there is bound to be some rust from the top seed in her opening match. Though Friedsam has pushed the world number one before, Williams has faced the German's game before, taking away the unpredictability factor in facing an opponent for the first time. Expect Williams to get her 2016 clay court campaign off to winning ways and to move into round three at the Foro Italico.
Prediction: Williams in straight sets