Clay-court tennis can be about creating distance, and these two don’t give up ground easily. Two of their last three meetings have gone the distance: Sharapova prevailed in three sets at the Australian Open and Olympics last year; Lisicki was a 6-4, 6-3 winner at Wimbledon last summer.
Both are at their best dictating play. Lisicki’s first serve can be a dangerous weapon (she’s hit 130 aces against 71 double faults this year); Sharapova is a sniper on return. Sharapova’s success returning Lisicki’s second serve will be key to the outcome.
Sharapova is the more consistent player who brings fire and focus on every point, whereas Lisicki, who shares the Russian’s skill for the big strike, can flicker into lapses and play loose points. Sharapova successfully defended her Stuttgart title last month, and her flat-hitting style should play well in the altitude. She’s riding a six-match clay-court win streak this year (18 in a row dating back to last year), but her last loss to a woman ranked outside the Top 10 was against Lisicki. I don’t expect Sharapova to tolerate a recurrence.
The Pick: Sharapova in two sets
French Open finalist Errani partnered Roberta Vinci to win the Madrid doubles title last year. Lepchenko beat Vinci in the opening round, and aims for her second clay-court win of the season over Errani.
Look for the left-handed Lepchenko to establish her topspin cross-court forehand early. If she’s connecting with authority, that’s a winning pattern. The 5’11” American handles the high ball well, plays with plenty of spin, and can make the ball jump to the 5’4” Italian’s shoulders.
Errani is fit, tough, and ultra-consistent. She won her seventh career title on the clay of Acapulco earlier this year, knows her way around net, and will be eager to avenge the 7-5, 6-2 Fed Cup loss to Lepchenko on the red clay of Rimini in February.
Against most opponents on clay, the longer the point, the more effective Errani can be opening the court. I think this is a different story. If Lepchenko corners Errani into hitting shoulder-high backhands off her backfoot on key points, I don’t see a solution for Sara.
The Pick: Lepchenko in three sets
Wawrinka beat world No. 4 David Ferrer in the Oeiras final to collect his fourth career title on Sunday; Dimitrov stunned world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Tuesday.
Backing up a big win can be a quantum leap on the learning curve for a young player, and the 21-year-old has cramped up in recent three-setters. The sturdy Wawrinka is so strong he looks he can bench-press those Schweppes slabs the players sit on during changeovers without much strain. Coming off a draining three hour, four-minute duel with Djokovic, and given the fact he has been prone to cramps, you wonder how Dimitrov will respond if Wawrinka forces him to grind in physical rallies.
This could be an entertaining match as both men are shot-makers. Both can strike down the line off either wing, can alter spins and speeds with exhilarating one-handed backhands, and can dictate with their first serves. Wawrinka has won 11 of his last 13 clay-court matches, and beat up Dimitrov’s second serve in their lone meeting. However, I believe Dimitrov is a bit more explosive on the run and his forehand is a bigger weapon. He also served well against the world's best returner and was inspired by rousing crowd support Tuesday night. I’ll ride with him in another upset.
The Pick: Dimitrov in three sets