Internazionali BNL d’Italia sees Nadal return among a flurry of WTA players to the clay

THE Internazionali BNL d’Italia qualifying rounds are almost done and dusted making for an intriguing full draw at both the men’s and women’s Italian Open. While all US Open semi-finalists were given the first round of competition off to recover from the quick turnaround in competitions – and countries – just one ATP Tour player from the latter stages of the US Open will take the court in Rome. Interestingly, the same did not go for the WTA Tour with US Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka drawn in the first round.

That one player is Spaniard, Pablo Carreno Busta who had a fantastic run to the semi finals at Flushing Meadows before bowing out to US Open runner up, Alexander Zverev in a mammoth five setter. He will be glad to have the extra break coming into his second round matchup though, taking on compatriot Rafael Nadal in the Round of 32. Having won here nine times, and back-to-back in 2018/19, it is safe to say Nadal will be feeling confident despite his lack of competitive court-time in the lead-up to the event.

Youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime comes in as 16th seed in the draw, and said that having Nadal back out on the court for the first time since the initial forced closure of competitions is a good time to come back, with very few players having clay court time prior to the tournament. 

“I think it’s great and especially he’s the big favourite here. We’ll see how he feels in his first match back since the break,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But for sure having those top guys still in the game is obviously great for the sport.

It’s a good mix and it’s a good time for tennis to come back both with these upcoming players and these great champions still in those draws. “We’re not going to get many tournaments in [on clay], so you’ve got to try and be sharp from the start. It’s already a big tournament here in Rome with big players lined up. I’ve been doing the most trying to adapt to the best that I can. “But we’ll see how it goes. “For sure you have to be ready to adapt and fight through your wins.”

Nadal comes into the draw as second seed just behind Novak Djokovic, who was fouled out of the US Open making for an interesting run at the Italian Open. Like the two aforementioned Spaniards, Djokovic will have a bye in the opening round, as will two homegrown talents in fourth and seventh seeds Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Gael Monfils, David Goffin and Diego Schwartzman round out the top seeds who will miss the Round of 64.

Making their way into the main draw through qualifying are a trio of Italians hoping to perform on  home soil, with Marco Cecchinato, Lorenzo Musetti and Giulio Zeppieri hoping to join seven of their compatriots in the main draw, while Mikael Ymer, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Australian Open quarter finalist, Tennys Sandgren will also hope to push through the third and final round of qualifiers to prepare for the upcoming Roland Garros. 

On the WTA Tour, qualifiers are done and dusted with a couple of quality names through to the main draw. As with the men’s draw, the top eight seeds will skip the Round of 64, seeing Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova lead the way, and Pliskova hoping to go back-to-back in Rome.  Also among the seeds are Elina SvitolinaKiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic, all of whom have not yet taken the court since the resumption of the tour.

With the main draw fully sorted, some key match-ups will see US Open runner-up Azarenka look to go one better than the weekend when she takes on a somewhat out of form Venus Williams, with the winner set to take on Australian Open champion Kenin in the second round. Youngster Iga Swiatek could be pushed by Arantxa Rus who has been in fine form flying through qualifiers but the Polish 18-year-old made the third round at the US Open and the fourth round at the Roland Garros last year, so will be gearing up for a tough challenge on the clay. Meanwhile, Elena Rybakina may be 10th seed but will have a tough opposition in Ekaterina Alexandrova to begin the tournament, having lost both their prior matches this year.

A couple of wildcard Italians will hit the court, with the expected names in Camila Giorgi, Jasmine Paolini and Elisabetta Cocciaretto all vying for first round wins, especially Giorgi who has a huge first round matchup with Dayana Yastremska, with the Italian getting the chocolates in their most recent battle at Palermo in August.

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