Maria Sharapova heads to Rome this week looking to win her third Internazionali BNL d'Italia title.
Sharapova never used to be considered the WTA's strongest force on clay, but over the last few years she has made a huge turnaround. As a result of this, she enters WTA Rome as one of the hot favourites for the title, and on top of this she enters as the defending champion.
Sharapova won this event in 2011 as well, emerging from a very tough draw to lift the trophy at the end of the week, and as a result she is now looking to make it a hat-trick in Italy.
Sharapova's recent form on the red dirt has been as good as it could possibly have been. She began the European clay swing by winning the Porsche Grand Prix, and this afternoon will take on Serena Williams in the final of the 2013 Mutua Madrid Open
. Her challenge for the No. 1 ranking spot remains strong, with only Williams and Victoria Azarenka looking like worthy rivals at the moment.
It's these two rivals that Sharapova is likely to be most concerned about in Rome. Vika isn't at her most comfortable on the red dirt, but at the same time she's only lost one match all season and remains a huge threat. Serena, on the other hand, will be Sharapova's biggest problem.
Like Sharapova, the American also produced a phenomenal win/loss record on clay in 2012, and to add to this Serena has dominated her head-to-head with Sharapova ever since the 2004 season finished.