WTA Palermo Preview: Back to Clay

Posted on July 16, 2007

PALERMO, Italy -- Several of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's finest exponents of clay-court tennis will head to Sicily this week to compete for the 17th Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo. The $145,000, Tier IV event is one of the final opportunities for players to showcase their expertise on the red dirt before the summer hard court swing commences.

The in-form Dutch teenager Michaella Krajicek returns to the Sicilian capital for the second year in succession and this time she will top the seedings at the Country Time Club. The 18-year-old comes into the tournament fresh from a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon and currently sits at a career-high No.32 in the world rankings. 12 months ago Krajicek fell in the second round and she will be hoping for a longer stay this week, kicking off her campaign against world No.109 Eva Birnerova of the Czech Republic.

Martina Muller sits just one place below Krajicek in the world rankings and is seeded No.2 this week. After an impressive year on Tour in 2006 -- in which she rose more than 70 places in the rankings -- Muller has struggled this season, winning just 10 matches and failing to progress beyond the round of 16 in any tournament. In 2005 the 24-year-old German battled through three rounds of qualifying before making it all the way to the quarterfinals, but last year she fell at the first hurdle to lucky loser, Maria Jose Mart�z Sanchez.

A mere 21 ranking spots separate the top seed from the No.8 and consequently this week's tournament promises to be highly competitive. One of the Tour's brightest stars Agnieszka Radwanska will be making her debut in Palermo and after a promising season in which the 18-year-old has made quarterfinal runs at the clay-court events in Warsaw and Istanbul as well as rising to a career-best ranking of No.35 -- the No.3 seed will be hoping for a good showing on the Italian clay. Another player who has experienced success on the red dirt in 2007 is No.4 seed, Emilie Loit. The 28-year-old Frenchwoman won the Tier III title in Acapulco and made quarterfinal appearances at four other tournaments during the European clay court season.

Home hopes will firmly rest on the shoulders of Fed Cup hero Roberta Vinci, who made it all the way to the semifinals last year and is seeded No.5 this time around. The remaining seeds this week are comprised of the prodigiously gifted Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai (No.6), Estonia's Kaia Kanepi (No.7) and Hungarian teenage sensation Agnes Szavay (No.8). There are also several dangerous unseeded players lurking in the draw, including three-time clay court tournament winner Flavia Pennetta, 2006 Bogotᠣhampion Lourdes Dom�uez Lino and high-flying Danish 17-year-old Caroline Wozniacki.

The Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo is in its 17th year as a Tour event, but one familiar name will not be returning to Sicily this year. Anabel Medina Garrigues has won the event for the past three years, but the Spaniard has elected not to defend her title this year. Medina Garrigues also triumphed in 2001 and other past champions include Dinara Safina (2003), Mariana Diaz-Oliva (2002), Henrieta Nagyova (2000) and Anastasia Myskina (1999). Irina Spirlea and Mary Pierce dominated the event in the 1990s, with both players winning back-to-back titles during the decade.

This year's winner will receive $21,140, while the runner-up will take home $11,395.
-- Courtesy WTA Tour