ROME, Italy - The draw is out for the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, a Premier 5 tournament set in the Eternal City, which begins on Sunday. Click here to view the full draw.
Top Eight Seeds: Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, Garbiñe Muguruza, Dominika Cibulkova, Johanna Konta, Simona Halep, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elina Svitolina.
Top Half: Kerber, Cibulkova, Halep, Kuznetsova.
Bottom Half: Pliskova, Muguruza, Konta, Svitolina.
Projected Quarterfinals: Kerber vs. Halep, Cibulkova vs. Kuznetsova, Konta vs. Muguruza, Pliskova vs. Svitolina.
Last year's final: Serena Williams d. Madison Keys, 7-6(5), 6-3.
Five questions as we turn to Rome:
Who will make it out of the loaded top half?
If you're in good form and your name is not Kristina Mladenovic, you landed in the top half of the draw. Simona Halep, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion Laura Siegemund, Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and wildcard Maria Sharapova all landed in the top half of the draw.
Halep, who will make a late arrival to Rome after making the final at the Mutua Madrid Open, has the toughest draw of the lot. The two-time semifinalist will open against either Naomi Osaka or Siegemund, who beat her in the Stuttgart semifinals, before possibly facing Pavlyuchenkova, and then potentially Sharapova or Kerber in the quarterfinals. Navigate that and Kuznetsova could be waiting in the semifinals.
Is this the week we see a Kerber-Sharapova showdown?
The stars seem aligned for the two to face off sooner rather than later. In Sharapova's first tournament back in Stuttgart, they were projected to meet in the semifinals before Mladenovic upended the German. In Madrid they were potential third round opponents, but Eugenie Bouchard had other ideas.
Once again they've been drawn into the same section and could face off in the third round. Sharapova opens against Christina McHale and then could face either Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (again) or Lucie Safarova. After a first round bye, Kerber will open against a qualifier.
Can Mladenovic recover from Madrid to make her 5th final of the season?
Like Halep, Mladenovic will be one of the last to arrive in Rome. Unlike Halep, she doesn't have the benefit of a first-round bye. But given her current form, Mladenovic has a great draw to make a third straight final. She's been drawn into the bottom half of the draw, where most of the seeds -- Karolina Pliskova, Johanna Konta, Garbiñe Muguruza, and Elina Svitolina lead this half -- are still struggling to find their clay form. That creates a big opportunity for Kiki.
Mladenovic will open against Julia Goerges and then play either Jelena Jankovic or Alison Riske. She could then face Muguruza in the third round. Win that and she's a heavy favorite for the final weekend.
Who will add their name to the short-list of favorites for Roland Garros?
As the Insider Team highlighted during our clay-court preview podcast, changes amongst the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard were expected during the clay season. The players who dominated the first three months of the year - Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, and Venus Williams - are far from comfortable on clay and the results over the last few weeks have underlined that point. A separate set of players, like Mladenovic, Kuznetsova, and Halep have emerged as the in-form players of the moment and favorites in Paris.
Rome offers the last big opportunity to see how the game's best shake out on the terre battue. Roland Garros champion Muguruza sputtered on clay last season but used a semifinal run on Rome as a springboard to her maiden Slam win a few weeks later.
Svitolina is a young name one would expect to be in the mix in Paris, but she needs a few more good wins on the surface to be in the conversation. The same could be said for the likes of Charleston champion Daria Kasatkina, Timea Bacsinszky, or Yulia Puntintseva, who are proven clay court threats.
Where will the dangerous qualifiers be placed?
Qualifying begins on Saturday and the qualifying draw itself is a tough field, led by Daria Gavrilova, Charleston runner-up Jelena Ostapenko, CiCi Bellis, and Istanbul champion Mona Barthel. Also in the mix are Ashleigh Barty, Anett Kontaveit, Andrea Petkovic, Lara Arruabarrena, and Océane Dodin. All dangerous players who are more than capable of causing a big upset in the early rounds.
First Round Matches to Watch: Maria Sharapova vs. Christina McHale, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni vs. Lucie Safarova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Sam Stosur, Ekaterina Makarova vs. Roberta Vinci, Yulia Putintseva vs. Monica Puig, Venus Williams vs. Yaroslava Shvedova, Alizé Cornet vs. Sara Errani, Barbora Strycova vs. Daria Kasatkina, Timea Bacsinszky vs. Timea Babos, Lesia Tsurenko vs. Deborah Chiesa.
Possible Second Round Matches to Watch: Maria Sharapova vs. Lucie Safarova/Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, Simona Halep vs. Laura Siegemund, Dominika Cibulkova vs. Roberta Vinci, Johanna Konta vs. Monica Puig/Yulia Putintseva, Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Shelby Rogers, Barbora Styrcova/Daria Kasatkina vs. Timea Bacsinszky/Timea Babos, Karolina Pliskova vs. Carla Suárez Navarro.