Can Serena make it back-to-back?
The heavyweight clash in the Madrid final didn't get past the early rounds. Serena Williams eased past current No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-3, serving huge (14 aces) and crunching Azarenka's second serve.
Now it's on to Rome and the Italian Open for the duo.
What we already know is that the two can't meet in the Rome finale. They're in the same half. But will they be on opposite sides of the net in the semis?
Here's a closer inspection of the draw:
First quarter: Vika and Dominika
Azarenka was understandably tired in Miami, which probably had something to do with her less-than-inspired performance against Dominika Cibulkova. Azarenka took advantage of Cibulkova's nerves on that day to rally for a three-set victory.
But what Cibulkova produced in the first 1½ sets was stunning. In the type of tennis the diminutive Slovak can play, she blasted winners from all over the court. The atmosphere -- like Fed Cup, in Slovakia -- helped the underdog.
It's high-risk, though, which explains why Cibulkova has won a single title.
In Madrid, Cibulkova barely lasted an hour against Roberta Vinci, and if Cibulkova is to get to Azarenka in the third round in Rome, she'll probably have to knock off the Italian in the second.
In her past four tournaments, reigning French Open champion Li Na has found herself in the quarterfinals. The consistency is a positive, yet Li is 0-4 in those matches and lost to Azarenka in Madrid after winning the first set.
The wild card in the quarter is Sabine Lisicki. Lisicki returns from the ankle injury she sustained in Charleston.
Second quarter: Caro-Serena back-to-back?
Just what Agnieszka Radwanska wanted Saturday, eh? She loses -- again -- to Azarenka in the Madrid semifinals, then the Pole sees herself in the same half as Azarenka in Rome.
Well, we assume she looked at the draw.
The only player who has beaten Radwanska this year is Azarenka, but that pattern may cease in Rome. Radwanska finds herself in a quarter that also includes Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and the always-dangerous Nadia Petrova.
It's a quick turnaround for Williams, something she hasn't been accustomed to in recent years, and her first opponent, Galina Voskoboeva, is no pushover. Then it might be Petrova, who has downed Williams twice in a row.
Wozniacki had a decent week in Madrid, taking a set off Williams with a sore ankle. She'll be in better shape in Rome.
Third quarter: Petra, the unpredictable
And here we were under the impression that Petra Kvitova turned things around after reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart. Lucie Hradecka's singles ranking heading into Madrid wasn't an indication of how well she can play. She possesses one of the most powerful serves in the women's game, but Kvitova shouldn't have lost to her pal in the Spanish capital.
Doesn't the slumping Pavlyuchenkova, a quarterfinalist at last year's French Open, have to reawaken sometime?
The in-form player in the section is Angelique Kerber, and the German has a gentle path to the third round. Once there, she'll probably land Marion Bartoli or fellow German Julia Goerges. Goerges was one of the standout performers on clay in 2011 -- but, so far, not this year.
Fourth quarter: Masha's reply
But it was a step backward in Madrid. In arguably the second most anticipated women's match of the tournament (behind Serena-Azarenka), Sharapova was routed by Williams. Sharapova has lost seven in a row to Williams, five in straight sets.
What to expect in Rome? Sharapova will have fond memories of the Italian capital, since she's the defending champion. And Williams isn't in her half.
Ana Ivanovic, pitted against fellow French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round, looms for Sharapova in the round of 16. The player Sharapova beat in Stuttgart and the Rome final, Stosur, may surface in the quarterfinals.
Running into Stosur, meanwhile, in the third round could be Venus Williams, with Stosur edging Venus on clay in Charleston in a tight three-set match. Venus' opening opponent is the same as in Madrid, Simona Halep (the Romanian extended Williams to a third-set tiebreaker).
This might be Stosur's time to finally topple Sharapova -- when the Russian is healthy (see Istanbul 2011).
Semifinals: Wozniacki def. Azarenka; Stosur def. Kerber
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