Williams returns in Rome, Halep arrives a champion

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Serena Williams is set to make her return to competitive action at the Internazionali d'Italia, which begins on Sunday.

World number one Williams pulled out of this week's Madrid Open after suffering from flu but will take part in her first event on clay, and just her fourth of the season overall, in Rome.

A three-time winner of the competition, Williams followed up her 2002 and 2013 successes with French Open glory, a feat she will be hopeful of repeating this year.

However, Williams is yet to claim a title this season, and her task of getting off the mark will be tougher with plenty of the field eager to improve after numerous surprises in Madrid, where Simona Halep was the only seed to reach the quarter-finals.

 

HALEP HEADS TO ROME AS A CHAMPION

After reaching her third WTA Premier Mandatory final in Madrid, Halep made light work of Dominika Cibulkova on Saturday. The world number seven took full advantage of slip-ups by the majority of the competition's seeds, surging to the final where she picked up a comfortable 6-2 6-4 triumph.

 

KERBER, MUGURUZA LOOKING TO BOUNCE BACK

Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open winner, got back to winning ways in Stuttgart last month but suffered a disappointing first-round exit in Madrid to Barbora Strycova. The world number three is the highest-ranked player in the bottom half of the draw with Agnieszka Radwanska skipping the competition. After a second-round exit in her home event during the week, Garbine Mugurza will be hoping to progress beyond the quarter-finals of a competition for the first time this season.

 

DIFFICULT DRAW FOR WILLIAMS

A potentially arduous path awaits the world number one as she looks to make a winning return in her first competition since the Miami Open in March. Should Williams win her opener against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova or Anna-Lena Friedsam, possible clashes against Ana Ivanovic, Halep and Victoria Azarenka await before a final berth. After a first-round bye, Kerber will kick off her campaign with a tricky match against either Jelena Jankovic or Eugenie Bouchard.

 

NO DEFENCE ON OFFER

Having triumphed in 2013 and 2014, Williams was unable to complete a third straight triumph in Rome when an elbow injury forced her to withdraw last year. Maria Sharapova took full advantage, coming from behind against Carla Suarez Navarro to win the title. However, the Russian is unable to attempt to defend her crown as she remains suspended following a doping violation.

 

AZARENKA ON ALERT

Azarenka, a finalist in 2013, extended her winning streak to 16 WTA Tour and Fed Cup matches by defeating Alize Cornet in the first round in Madrid, but a back injury forced her to withdraw ahead of her next match. She will hope to pick up where she left off after a rest, but will likely have one eye on ensuring she is fit for the French Open.

 

ERRANI HOPING TO PLEASE HOME CROWD

"Although I only played one match in Madrid, I am satisfied with the week and how things are going. This is a tournament I like, where I did very well in the past, and is on clay," said Sara Errani.