This week's Internazionali BNL d'Italia sees the return to action for World No.6 Elina Svitolina, No.8 Kiki Bertens and No.11 Belinda Bencic, who are all set to play their first matches since the season restarted in August. The Premier 5 event also sees World No.2 Simona Halep, playing her first event since winning the Prague Open last month, and defending champion Karolina Pliskova.
A semifinalist last year, Bertens is seeded No.5 in Rome and the clay-court specialist will be one to watch during the next four weeks. The 28-year-old Dutchwoman picked up a title earlier this year with her successful title defense of St. Petersburg and it's no surprise to hear she enjoyed her seven-month break from the road.
"I quite liked it, yes," Bertens told reporters at All Access Hour in Rome. "I didn't play tennis for the first time I think in my career for nine weeks. That was different.
"Of course physically I did still work out, but then it's just like two hours a day, and the rest of the day I had off. So I really liked it. Mentally it was really good I think for me, as well. I appreciated to be home, to see my family again after a while.
"Yeah, just completely rested. Did a lot of puzzles.
"Funny that you asked. Today they launched a puzzle of myself in it, as well. So that's something cool."
As much as Bertens enjoyed her time at home, there is no denying she missed the competition, both with herself and her opponents.
"It was weird, because after the first ball I missed I got pissed already," Bertens said, describing her first practice after not touching a racquet for two months. "That's still how I am, I guess.
"For me, it's just always I have to be 100% even after not playing for nine weeks, which I know it was impossible, but I'm still just hungry to achieve more, to progress in my game and just work out again.
"I'd rather play tournaments than practice, but I guess everyone is doing that. Everything I'm doing in general in life I want to win, and that's more tough in practice than in matches.
"I just like to compete, just like to have that winning feeling, yeah. So I definitely miss that."
"Let's see how my level is at this moment. I have no idea. It's tough to say that in practice, so, yeah, let's see on Wednesday or Thursday how it's going."
Matches vs. Preparation: Advantage who?
A common theme throughout All Access Hour was whether players who skipped the US Open would benefit from their prolonged preparation on clay. World No.2 Simona Halep played and won the Prague Open last month and remained in Europe to continue her training on clay. Last year's Madrid champion and perennial threat at Roland Garros, Kiki Bertens, also skipped the hardcourt summer.
"Yes and no," Simona Halep said, when asked whether staying in Europe would be an advantage. "Because yes, I had the chance to practice on clay only, and no, because I didn't have official matches. So both sides I think have an advantage if we know how to take it."
Two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina said preparing for Roland Garros was a significant factor in her decision to skip the hardcourt summer.
"I have been practicing for one-and-a-half months on clay court, so that at least gives me a good chance to play well in Rome and Roland Garros,' Svitolina said.
Defending champion Karolina Pliskova played both the US Open and Western & Southern Open. She believes match-play is the key to success right now.
"You can feel great, but I feel like still not having enough matches and not having enough tournaments can be maybe a little weird for me. That's how I feel.
"So no matter how good you feel on the practice court, still you have to somehow put it into matches. That's what I think everybody is gonna try to do now.
"I don't think there is big difference of playing America or playing just in Europe, because most of the girls they just played some tournaments. Even the ones before America or in States.
"So I think we just start from zero. So I think now anything can happen every day. Every week there can be strange results.
"I just think it's still good that tennis is back. No matter how everybody feels about this, I think it's good that we play."
Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin echoed Pliskova's sentiments. "I know a lot of people stayed here, trained on the clay, which is expected. But it's obviously different. I feel like they are a bit more prepared, of course, but I guess we have a bit of an advantage that we have had had matches and we competed and have some matches under the belt.
"So it's a little bit of both. Definitely it's some kind of advantage, but like I said, anyone can win on any given day. I was playing great before Cincy, and I thought I'm going to do so well, and then I did not have the best match. It doesn't really matter what happens in practice. It counts what happens in matches."
Welcome to the WTA Family, Paula!
Belinda Bencic said the highlight of her seven-month break was adopting a new puppy. "We didn't actually want like to adopt a dog," Bencic said. "We always said we don't have time and it's going to be difficult and we are traveling.
"But then sometimes we go to the dog shelter just to walk dogs sometimes on the weekend, and we just came there and we saw her, and we were, like, Okay, looks like we have a problem. Yeah, we adopted her."
Kiki Bertens: Title Defender
In addition to her St. Petersburg defense in February, Bertens was a rare player who was able to actually defend a title during the tour's shutdown. The 2019 Madrid Open champion took part in a virtual tournament and somehow found herself holding the trophy in the end.
"I never played on a PlayStation before, so it took a while to figure it out," Bertens said. "But I had so much time at home, so I had time enough to practice, and it worked out well. At least I have already two titles won this year."