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The clay-court season will get underway in earnest in Rome, where some of the world’s best have gathered to battle for the title at the Italian Open. Although Serena Williams, newly crowned US Open champion Naomi Osaka and defending French Open champion Ashleigh Barty have elected not to play in Italy, the field is still stacked with talent and there are plenty of intriguing matches in the first round. Here are some of the best:
WTA Italian Open First-Round Matches to Watch
Camila Giorgi vs Dayana Yastremska
This will be the third meeting between this pair. Giorgi won the first, but in their most recent meeting, which came at Wimbledon last season, it was Yastremska who took the win, in straight-sets. That said, Giorgi’s victory came on clay in Strasbourg, as she won in the first round of qualifying. With both players hard-hitting and most comfortable on the front foot, expect plenty of winners and for both to look to dictate in what looks likely to be an even contest.
Amanda Anisimova vs Donna Vekic
This will be their first encounter, but should be a fine match with both at home playing on clay courts. Anisimova announced herself to the tennis world with a deep run at the French Open last year, where she reached the semifinals. But Vekic, who will surely be accounted the favourite coming into this match, will look to dictate proceedings. Expect high quality tennis from both women in a match that looks likely to go the distance.
Garbine Muguruza vs Sloane Stephens
This will be their fourth time playing against each other, with the American having had the upper hand in their head-to-head. In their only clay-court meeting, Stephens won in straight sets at the French Open. Muguruza may also be short of confidence after a disappointing second-round loss to Tsvetana Pironkova. Stephens, meanwhile, has struggled to find her best tennis. But any match between two Grand Slam champions in the first round at a Major is surely worth watching.
Ons Jabeur vs Coco Gauff
This will their second meeting in quick succession after Gauff scored a three-set win in Lexington in August. However, Gauff followed that with a disappointing showing in New York, where failed to win a match either at the Western and Southern Open or the US Open. Jabeur got off to a flying start this year and has continued to impress, at times playing some incredible if unorthodox tennis. Expect an engaging battle.
Anett Kontaveit vs Caroline Garcia
This will be the third meeting between Kontaveit and Garcia, with the head-to-head tied at one win apiece. In their last meeting, which came on the clay in Stuttgart last season, Kontaveit came out on top, winning in straight sets. But, although Garcia is inconsistent at times, she is capable of delivering some superb performances, not least in her recent upset of Karolina Pliskova in the second round at the US Open. If she can rediscover the level she displayed in that match, this should be some contest.
Magda Linette vs Jelena Ostapenko
This is the second match in their head-to-head with the Latvian winning the first. But Ostapenko has been struggling of late. She has certainly not looked like the player who won the French Open in 2017, defeating Simona Halep in the final. Linette, in contrast, has excelled over the last 12 months and is a player few opponents will relish facing, particularly this early in a tournament. But Ostapenko’s power ensures she is always a threat.
Hsieh Su-wei vs Elise Mertens
This will be their fourth encounter, with the Belgian having won two of the previous three. That includes a win in their only previous meeting on clay. But Hsieh’s unorthodox approach makes her an uncomfortable opponent. However, Mertens is in excellent form after a great run at the US Open where she reached the quarterfinals. She also reached the final in Prague just over a month ago and will be the favourite heading into this contest.
Bernarda Pera vs Svetlana Kuznetsova
The American is a good clay-courter and has been playing some good tennis of late. In her last outing, she reached the third round at the US Open, losing in three close sets to Maria Sakkari. Kuznetsova, in contrast, has not played much since the season resumed, although she did reach the second round on the clay in Istanbul last week. With her vast experience, which includes a title at the French Open, she cannot be discounted.
Marie Bouzkova vs Ajla Tomljanovic
The young Czech had a great end to 2019, but has struggled since the restart. At the beginning of the year, she reached the final at the Monterrey Open, losing in three sets to Elina Svitolina, but has done little of note since. The Australian, meanwhile, is coming off disappointing early first round defeats in Cincinnati and the US Open. This will be their second encounter with the Australian winning the first. Expect a close contest.
Victoria Azarenka vs Venus Williams
If Azarenka doesn’t withdraw from this event, this is unquestionably the match of the first round. Azarenka will surely be full of confidence after a superb summer in North America, winning the title at the Western and Southern Open, before reaching the final at the US Open. Williams has struggled of late, but she remains a great of the game, albeit one who lost her only previous match against Azarenka on clay. Still, a great match could well be in the offing.
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