Three To See, Rome: May 16
Two Grand Slam champions square off in a contrast of styles. Stosur’s helium-high kick serve is one of the best in the sport, and she uses it to set up her topspin forehand, which can torment opponents with its shoulder-high bounce. Because Stosur hits with so much spin, her margin of error is usually higher than the flatter-hitting Kvitova.
The 6' Kvitova handles the high ball well—when she’s confident she will step into the court, take the ball on the rise, and hammer her reply—and won their lone clay-court meeting, permitting just three games at the 2008 French Open. Look for Stosur to use her low slice backhand and try to disrupt Kvitova’s timing, alternating the height of her heavy topspin forehand with this shot that can slither near opponents' ankles.
Their last two meetings have both gone the distance and this should be another tight one. Kvitova can be erratic—see the second set of her 6-4, 0-6, 7-5 win over Sabine Lisicki in the prior round—but if the 2011 Wimbledon winner can avoid a mid-match malaise and hit her lefty forehand cross-court with aggression to Stosur's backhand, I believe she will reach her second straight Rome quarterfinal.
The Pick: Kvitova in three sets
Jerzy Janowicz vs. (9) Richard Gasquet
Head-to-head: Gasquet leads 1-0
Janowicz channeled his inner Andrew Ilie, shredding his shirt after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga today to register his third career Top 10-win. Now, he faces another talented Frenchman in Gasquet, who dropped just four games dressing down the Pole in Indian Wells this March.
Though Janowicz’s Masters breakthrough came on a hard court in Paris last fall, he showed his clay-court skills winning three Challenger titles last year. The 6’8” youngster can dictate play on his serve—he hit seven aces and did not face a break point against Tsonga, who nearly knocked Novak Djokovic out of the French Open last year—and if he serves 65 percent or better, he will be tough to break.
Gasquet sometimes drifts so far back behind the baseline that he could carry on conversations with fans in the front row. Consequently, he’s sometimes vulnerable against powerful servers who can hit the corners. Gasquet has scored straight-sets wins over big servers Sam Querrey and Grigor Dimitrov, dropping serve just once in those two wins. When he has time, Gasquet can do just about anything with his versatile one-handed backhand, he’s skilled changing spins, and I see him reaching his third consecutive Rome quarterfinal.
The Pick: Gasquet in two sets
Tennis isn’t easy, but Roger Federer can sure make it look that way sometimes. Yet the Swiss master has found Simon to be a bit of stumbling block. The slender Frenchman owns a sneaky-fast serve and is very skilled at lulling opponents into a false sense of security, rolling back replies before suddenly cracking faster counter-strikes down the line.
Clay is not Simon’s favorite surface, but six of his 10 career titles have come on the dirt, and he’s played tremendous tennis against Federer on some big stages. Simon beat Federer at the 2008 Rogers Cup and Masters Cup, and pushed him to five sets at the 2011 Australian Open.
Federer must be vigilant in this match. When he attacks, he must close with urgency because Simon is so skilled steering passing shots down the lines off both wings. Federer has more firepower and greater variety, and I don’t think he will look past Simon, particularly after losing to Kei Nishikori in Madrid last week.
The Pick: Federer in three sets