Wounded Mauresmo looking for Roman recovery
ROME, May 14: World number one Amelie Mauresmo will be glad to set foot on Roman soil when she returns to defend her title at the Italian Open, which starts tomorrow.
A year that started so well for the Frenchwoman, with her first grand slam victory at the Australian Open followed by titles in Paris and Antwerp, is in danger of taking a downturn.
Her preparations for the French Open suffered a major setback this past week, when she suffered her heaviest defeat of 2006 -- a 6-1 6-2 drubbing by Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semi-finals of the Berlin claycourt event.
Rome, however, could hardly be a more convenient tour stop, as in recent years Mauresmo has been the undisputed queen of the Italian capital.
She has reached the final five times in the last six editions and won the tournament in 2004 and 2005 to become the first player to win back-to-back titles since Conchita Martinez racked up four in a row between 1993 and 1996.
She will also be relieved to learn that Henin-Hardenne has opted to sit out the tournament.
Even so, there is no lack of pretenders lining up to snatch Mauresmo's title away ahead of Roland Garros, which starts at the end of this month.
Henin-Hardenne's compatriot Kim Clijsters is seeded two and looks to be hitting her stride on clay at just the right moment.
Earlier this month, the 22-year-old did not drop a set on the way to winning the claycourt tournament in Warsaw -- her first title on the surface since beating Mauresmo in the Rome final in 2003.
Fourth seed Nadia Petrova has also been in superb form recently and looks set to overturn her disappointing record in the Italian capital, where she has never previously gone beyond the third round.
The Russian comes into the tournament on the back of claycourt titles in Amelia Island and Charleston, as well as a final showdown in Berlin against Henin-Hardenne today.
One of the strongest outsiders in the event, Martina Hingis, has not won a title since the beginning of 2002, but that will not bother the Swiss, whose comeback continued with a semi-final at Indian Wells in March to move back into the world's top 30.
Hingis would dearly love to put in a good showing in Rome ahead of the French Open -- the only grand slam title missing on her illustrious list of honours.