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Serena Williams will start the Italian Open overwhelming favourite for a fourth Rome title but she by no means has it easy.
Maria Sharapova’s continued absence from the sport means that last year’s champion will not be able to defend her title. The Russian also won in 2011 and 2012 so Williams, victorious in 2002, 2013 and 2014, will start with the pressure that she is used to.
The Floridian pulled out of Madrid last week with illness and will be hoping to fire on all cylinders.
But she has not been presented with an easy draw, Ana Ivanovic, Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka all possible opponents before she can even think about the final.
In terms of other challengers for the title, second seed Angelique Kerber is an obvious contender as is third seed Garbiñe Muguruza, a finalist at last year’s Wimbledon.
Halep made the final at Madrid this week and will look to continue her good form on clay and make the final here for the first time.
Italians will be interested in the progress of Roberta Vinci, the seventh seed, along with Sara Errani, runner-up in 2014. Claudia Giovine and Francesca Schiavone are other Italians in the main draw.
Once qualifying is out of the way, the main women’s draw begins at the first round stage on Monday.