Day two action at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in the Italian capital, Rome saw the two top eight seeds in action secure victories in their opening matches after a first round bye, world number one Serena Williams and 2015 runner-up Carla Suárez Navarro. Fifth seed Petra Kvitova will seek to join them in the round of 16 when she goes up against American Madison Keys Wednesday night.
Kvitova's ranking fell three spots to ninth after the Czech failed to defend her title in Madrid last week. She was spectacular in the first two rounds but threw in an erratic performance on the way to a second consecutive defeat to Aussie Daria Gavrilova in the round of 16. With quarterfinal points to defend in Rome, an early exit this week could see the Czech tumble out of the top 10 for the first time since September 2013. Her Rome campaign will not be an easy one being handed one of the toughest draws among the top eight seeds who received an opening round bye.
The two-time Wimbledon champion has performed fairly in Rome compared to Madrid where she has won twice, two quarterfinal appearances (2012 and 2015) being her best showings. The Czech will be looking for a deep run to secure her place in the top 10 and also a top eight seeding for the French Open.
Last week, the young and big-hitting Keys wasted an opportunity to go deep in Madrid when she suffered a puzzling loss in the hands of qualifier Patricia Maria Tig in the round of 16. The American seemed to have put that disappointment behind with a much-needed victory over German Andrea Petkovic on Monday. In just her second clay-court tournament of the year, Keys will be looking for wins to gain momentum heading into the French Open later in the month.
Both women will clash for the fourth time in their careers and this will be their first meeting on clay. Kvitova won their first match handily back in 2013 in the round of 16 of Tokyo where she went on to win the title. After being upset by the American in the third round at the Australian Open last year, the Czech avenged her loss, scoring a three-set win in the second round en route to the title in New Haven last August.
On her day, Kvitova is able to blast her opponent off the court, even against big-hitters as seen in Stuttgart last month in the last eight against Garbiñe Muguruza. Against a similar opponent in Keys, the match will ultimately be on the Czech's racket given she is the more powerful of the pair. If she is able to be consistent in her shot-making and avoid unnecessary errors, it will be Kvitova's match to lose. She may want to execute variety especially her net skills to catch her American opponent off guard.
On the other hand, Keys has the advantage of having an extra match under her belt and will look to relish moments and replicate a similar result to her big win over the Czech in Melbourne last year. However, playing on a different and slower surface this time around, it may not be as easy for the American to trouble her opponent as the Czech is the better player on the dirt. With a big task to defend her top 10 ranking, Kvitova should get this job done in routine fashion and book her place in the round of 16 where a possible clash with Venus Williams looms.
Prediction: Petra Kvitova in straight sets