WTA Insider breaks down the draw at the 2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where Serena Williams returns to action and Simona Halep tries to complete her set.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
May 10, 2019

The draw for the Internazionali BNL d'Italia is out and it sees the return of four-time champion Serena Williams, who is set to play her first tournament since the Miami Open. 

No.1 Naomi Osaka and No.2 Petra Kvitova are the top seed in Rome, a Premier 5 tournament and the last big event before Roland Garros.

Main draw play begins on Monday, May 13th. For the full draw, click here

Tournament Snapshot:

Top eight seeds: No.1 Naomi Osaka, No.2 Petra Kvitova, No.3 Simona Halep, No.4 Karolina Pliskova, No.5 Elina Svitolina, No.6 Kiki Bertens, No.7 Sloane Stephens, No.8 Ashleigh Barty

Top Half: Osaka, Halep, Bertens, Stephens
Bottom Half: Kvitova, Pliskova, Svitolina, Barty

Projected Round of 16: Osaka-Goerges, Sabalenka-Bertens, Halep-Wang Qiang, Stephens-Serena Williams, Svitolina-Wozniacki, Keys-Karolina Pliskova, Barty-Sevastova, Kontaveit-Kvitova.

Last year: Elina Svitolina d. Simona Halep, 6-0, 6-4. 

Serena Williams returns to the Eternal City. 

Welcome back to the clay, Serena Williams. Now ranked No.11, Serena returns to Rome for the first time since winning the title in 2016. Rome will be Serena's fourth tournament of the season and the first since being forced to withdraw from Miami due to knee injury. 

Serena has been drawn into Sloane Stephens' quarter in the top half of the draw, which also has Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep. She is set to open against a qualifier, a potentially tough opener given the quality of the qualifying field this year, and could face Venus Williams in the second round, though Venus will have her hands full against Elise Mertens.

Should Serena and Venus square off in Rome, it will be their first meeting on European clay in nearly 17 years. Their last meeting on red clay came at the 2002 Roland Garros final.

With Roland Garros two weeks away, the most important win for Serena will be to leave Rome healthy. She has played just three tournaments this season and was unable to finish her last two, retiring in the third round in Indian Wells and withdrawing ahead of her third round in Miami. Here's hoping her bothersome knee is healthy and happy to be on softer ground.

Madrid redux in the top half of the draw. 

Three of the four semifinalists from Madrid are in the top half of the draw, with both finalists, Simona Halep and Kiki Bertens, among them.

Naomi Osaka, who has found her form on the clay after runs to the Stuttgart semifinals and Madrid quarterfinals, has solidified herself as a threat on the surface, though she is still chasing her first Top 20 win on the surface. The top seed this year, Osaka has never progressed past the third round in Rome, but then again, she had never won a main draw match in Stuttgart or Madrid this year. The 21-year-old will be looking to bounce back from a tough loss to Bencic in Madrid, which saw Osaka serve for the match only to lose 7-5 in the third. 

The top seed will open against either Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Dominika Cibulkova, both of whom she defeated en route to the Madrid quarterfinals. If Bertens recovers from her physical effort in Madrid, the Dutchwoman could be a stern test for Osaka in the quarterfinals.

Simona Halep has been forthright about her desire to win Rome. It's the only big clay tournament she has yet to pocket, after falling short in back-to-back finals the last two years to Elina Svitolina. In great form and full of confidence, could this finally be the year the Romanian captures the one big clay title that's escaped her?

Halep could get an Indian Wells rematch against talented Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova, who defeated the Romanian in three sets in the California desert in March, and could be the quarterfinal opponent for Sloane Stephens or Serena Williams.

Looking to build on her successful semifinal run in Madrid, Stephens will open her tournament against either Johanna Konta or Alison Riske. 

Elina Svitolina's three-peat hinges on her health. 

The two-time defending champion is looking to become the first woman since Conchita Martinez to do a three-peat in Rome, with the Spaniard winning four in a row from 1993-1996.

But still recovering from a knee injury, Svitolina looked hampered and rusty in a 6-4, 7-6 loss to Pauline Parmentier in the first round of Madrid last week. Svitolina said before that tournament that she was still working her way back from injury and wanted to try and play to see if her knee would hold up. She'll benefit from a bye into the second round in Rome, but could face Victoria Azarenka in her opener. Azarenka faces Zhang Shuai in the first round. 

Petra Kvitova remains one to watch. 

It took a masterful performance from Kiki Bertens to end Petra Kvitova's seven-match win-streak on clay. The Czech returns to Rome for the first time since 2016, having skipped the event last season due to fatigue. Kvitova has never progressed past the quarterfinals in Rome, but the week offers a big chance for her to close the points gap on her quest to finally reach No.1. With no points to defend, Kvitova can make a big move in Rome and set herself up well for Roland Garros and Wimbledon. 

Kvitova opens against either Yulia Putintseva or Lesia Tsurenko and could face Anett Kontaveit in the Round of 16, a rematch of the Stuttgart final. Ashleigh Barty could be waiting for her in the quarterfinals, in what would be their fourth meeting of the year.

Notable first round matches: Serena Williams vs. Qualifier, Aliaksandra Sasnovich vs. Dominika Cibulkova, Julia Goerges vs. Hsieh Su-Wei, Marketa Vondrousova vs. Barbora Strycova, Venus Williams vs. Elise Mertens, Danielle Collins vs. Caroline Wozniacki, Belinda Bencic vs. Anastasija Sevastova, Donna Vekic vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.