Room at the Top?

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The women’s spring became a little more intriguing this past week. Serena Williams’ thigh injury, which forced her to withdraw in Madrid, has opened up some room at the top for whichever player can take it. This past weekend, that player, as it usually is when Serena slips on clay, was Maria Sharapova. Who might it be in Madrid? Could it be the defending champion Serena herself? Here’s a look at another pleasingly full WTA draw.


First Quarter

In Serena’s case, there’s no rest for the banged up. If she plays—as of Monday morning, she was still on the fence—and if form and seedings hold, the 2013 winner could face Andrea Petkovic, then Sloane Stephens, then the winner between Petra Kvitova and Dominika Cibulkova, just to reach the semis. 

Wild card, literally and figuratively: Camila Giorgi. She starts against Cibulkova. 

First-round match to watch: Stephens vs. Bojana Jovanovski. The American won their only previous meeting, 7-5 in the third, at the Aussie Open last year.

Semifinalist: Kvitova


Second Quarter

The top two seeds in this section are Sharapova, and the woman she beat in the Madrid final on Sunday, Simona Halep. Both like Rome—the Russian won the tournament in 2011 and 2012; the Romanian had a breakthrough run here last year when she beat Aga Radwanska on her way to the semifinals. 

This time Sharapova will start against either Monica Puig or Daniela Hantuchova, while Halep gets the winner between two young Americans, Madison Keys and Alison Riske.

Note of caution: In two tournaments where Halep went deep this season—Doha and Indian Wells—she’s been unable to finish a match in the event immediately following it.

Also here: Ana Ivanovic, who could play Sharapova in the third round; Venus Williams, Rome addict, who opens against Annika Beck.

Semifinalist: Sharapova


Third Quarter

Doesn’t it make sense that Jelena Jankovic and Rome have gotten along well together in the past? It might be the only city where the fans are as animated as she is. JJ is a two-time champion at the Foro Italico, though those wins came a while back, in 2007 and 2008. This time her draw could have been kinder; she might start against Svetlana Kuznetsova, and nearby are Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat her last week, and Flavia Pennetta, who will have the crowd behind her.

Rome, by contrast, does not agree with Aga Radwanska. The last time the world No. 3 won a match here was in 2010. She’ll try to break that streak against either Kurumi Nara or Paula Ormaechea; Aga should be able to handle them, right? If she does, Radwanska could play her second match in a week against Eugenie Bouchard.

First-round matches to watch: Pavlyuchenkova vs. Belinda Bencic; Bouchard vs. Francesca Schiavone

Semifinalist: Jankovic


Fourth Quarter

How will Li Na respond to giving away a lead and losing to Sharapova in Madrid? Her record of recovery in 2014 so far is good; she bounced back from a semifinal loss to Flavia Pennetta in Indian Wells to reach the final in Miami. And Li has also been to the final in Rome before—we won't mention that she gave away a lead and lost to Sharapova in that match as well. This week she’ll start against either Magdalena Rybarikova or Casey Dellacqua.

The second seed in this section is Angelique Kerber, who seems to have been thrown off track by a Fed Cup trip to Australia last month. Since then, she has lost both matches she’s played; in the second of them, in Madrid, she had to retire to Caroline Garcia with back pain. The German was a semifinalist here in 2012. This year she’ll start against either Tsvetana Pironkova or Petra Cetkovska.

Also here: Sara Errani, Sam Stosur, Sabine Lisicki

Semifinalist: Li Na


Semifinals: Sharapova d. Kvitova; Li Na d. Jankovic

Final: Sharapova d. Li Na

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