Schedule of play:
Sloane Stephens vs. Flavia Pennetta
Sloane is making a name for herself, not in a good way. She rattled off about Serena in an interview whereas Serena responded with class and tact. This girl should learn about manners. Anyway, her results after her Melbourne breakthrough are just abysmal. She faces veteran and home crowd favourite, Flavia Pennetta. Flavia is a seasoned clay-courter and should have no issues with this surface. This only concern is whether she's still bothered by her injury which kept her out of the game last year. If she's fully recovered, she should take out the loud American.
Pick: Pennetta in 2 tight sets
Kirsten Flipkens vs. Yanina Wickmayer
Another new Belgian rivalry forming? Flipken's rise up the rankings is staggering and she has overtaken Wickmayer as the top ranked Belgian. Yanina has stagnated since reaching the semi-finals of US Open 4 years ago. There were expectations placed on her and I didn't think she coped with it well. Flipkens, on the other hand, is swinging freely without the need to defend any major points and she's producing the results. Her all court game is quite a change from the common ball bashing game. Clay is not either one's best surface, but I believe Flipkens's guile will outsmart Yanina's one-dimensional game. It will definitely be followed by a bitchy handshake from Wickmayer.
Pick: Flipkens in 2 tight sets
Serena Williams vs. Laura Robson
I am very sure Serena will be looking to avenge for Venus's loss to Robson. However, we have to factor in fatigue as she didn't have much time to recover from her Madrid triumph. Also, the clay of Rome is slower so Serena has to work harder to win points. That said, I believe Laura doesn't have it in her to cause another upset. Venus was well below par and anyone would have beaten her yesterday. Robson showed her usual nervousness when closing out the match but she was helped massively by Venus's errors. Serena will be much stingier with her errors, so I believe she should cruise.
Pick: Serena in 2 sets
Sure win bets: Ana Ivanovic, Julia Goerges (!), Varvara Lepchenko
Upset alert: Zheng Jie, Nadia Petrova, Petra Kvitova