WTA action headed to the Premier 5-level Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome last week, the final main clay court warm-up event leading up to the French Open at the end of this month. The tournament saw its top seed and world number one Serena Williams sail to her 70th career title, ending a nine-month title drought. The American's last title came on home soil at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati last August.
Last week's titlist
By her standards, 2016 has been rather mundane thus far for world number one Williams. Although she did reach the final of the Australian Open and the BNP Paribas Open earlier in the year and was the clear favourite to win the titles, she left both tournaments second best. Things did not go better for the American at her happy hunting ground, the Miami Open, when she fell to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the round of 16. Having had to withdraw from the Mutua Madrid Open a fortnight ago with the flu, the American entered Rome with some uncertainties pertaining her form.
Williams' road to the title included wins over Anna-Lena Friedsam, Christina McHale, Kuznetsova, Irina-Camelia Begu and Madison Keys. In the final, the American, as evident in most of her matches in the Eternal City throughout the week, started out slow but soon gained enough steam to outhit her fellow American Keys for the title. Williams departs the picturesque Foro Italico with the title for the fourth time in her career, her second in her last three appearances.
The top eight seeds in Rome had a first round bye with five of them bowing out without a win in the bag. They were second seed Angelique Kerber, fourth seed Victoria Azarenka, fifth seed Petra Kvitova, sixth seed and newly-crowned Madrid champion Simona Halep and seventh seed Roberta Vinci. Other than Williams, the only other top-eight seed to make it past the round of 16 was Garbiñe Muguruza, who lost to Keys in the semifinals.
Misaki Doi and Barbora Strycova enjoyed some of their best results on the dirt with both women posting quarterfinal appearances. Begu, who lost to Williams in the last four, became the only player to reach at least the quarterfinals of Madrid and Rome.
The rankings this week will determine the seedings for the French Open. The Rome title affirms Williams of her spot at the top of the rankings. Timea Bacsinszky, who reached the last eight in Rome, hits a new career-high ranking of ninth, surpassing her previous career-high of 10th during the fall of last year. Kuznetsova, also a quarterfinalist in the Italian capital, returns to the top 15 at world number 15, an improvement of four ranking places.
Keys, by virtue of her good run, vaults seven places to 17th, returning to the top 20 for the first time since January. Begu and Doi also reach new career-high rankings of 28th and 38th, going up from 35th and 45th respectively. Other Rome quarterfinalist Strycova moves up three places to 33rd.
Kvitova, who had dire results in Madrid and Rome, exits the top 10 for the first time since fall of 2013, going down three ranking spots to 12th. Halep, who was a semifinalist in Rome last year, drops one spot to sixth after going winless this year. Moreover, Maria Sharapova, who could not defend her Rome title due to her suspension after failing a drug test earlier in the year, falls 12 places to 24th. Daria Gavrilova, who made the last four a year ago, falls from 32nd to 45th after crashing out in the round of 16 to Kuznetsova.
Road to Singapore
Williams, by virtue of winning the title in Rome, overtakes Agnieszka Radwanska, who skipped Rome, for the number three spot in the race to the WTA Finals. Bacsinszky, who made the last eight, moves up from number 12, entering the top 10 standings at 10th.
Rome finalist Keys soars 26 places in the race, going up all the way to 12th. A semifinal run in Rome sees Muguruza enter the top 20 at number 17, up 18 spots. Progressing down the list, Begu halves her position in the race, moving up from 52nd to 26th while Doi makes a 19-spot leap to 35th.
This week's action
The final week of preparation for the French Open will see the cities of Nürnberg, Germany, and Strasbourg, France hold International-level events, namely the Nurnberger Versicherungscup and Internationaux de Strasbourg respectively. Both tournaments are already underway with Vinci leading the field in Nürnberg. Across the border in Strasbourg, Sara Errani spearheads a 32-player draw featuring four top 30 players.