Rome Thursday: Sloane's Next Test
Published May 15, 2013 12:00
Thursday, Third Round
 Maria Sharapova (RUS #2) vs.  Sloane Stephens (USA #17)
Head-to-head: Sharapova leads 1-0
Following a difficult few months on tour, Sloane Stephens finally seems to have rediscovered her mojo in Rome, winning back-to-back matches for the first time since January to set up a meeting with defending champion Maria Sharapova. Over the past year or so, the Russian has been arguably the WTA's standout performer on clay and will offer an accurate gauge of just where Stephens is at heading into the French Open.
Despite seeing her 21-match win streak on the dirt come to an end last week in Madrid, Sharapova bounced straight back up to dismiss another talented youngster, Garbiñe Muguruza, on Wednesday. Stephens' speed and retrieval skills have made her menace on clay in the past, and, as she showed in Australia, will relish the opportunity to showcase her talent against one of the sport's leading lights.
 Serena Williams (USA #1) vs.  Dominika Cibulkova (SVK #16)
Head-to-head: Williams leads 2-0
Worryingly for Dominika Cibulkova, there was no sign of Serena Williams' traditional slow start in her tournament opener on Tuesday. Williams picked up from where she left off in the Madrid final, dropping just four games against Laura Robson to record her 20th consecutive match win.
One more and she will match her previous career-best runs (set in 2002 and 2003). And the ominous numbers - for Cibulkova, at least - do not end there; Williams has won 28 of her last 29 matches on clay and 94 of her last 96 contests against players outside the Top 10. Cibulkova has had an up and down year, but will draw comfort from her most recent encounter with Williams, when she came within a whisker of winning a few months ago in Miami.
 Petra Kvitova (CZE #8) vs.  Samantha Stosur (AUS #10)
Head-to-head: Kvitova leads 4-0
For Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur, the clay court season has yet to really get going, and on Thursday evening one of them will be left contemplating another disappointing result. On their day, both have the ability to beat the best in the business, but are also prone to going off the boil from time to time.
This latter trait was evidenced during Kvitova's second set walkabout against Sabine Lisicki in the second round. Stosur's high-kicking top spin serve and forehand combination are likely to present a few problems for Kvitova's flat groundstrokes, although, as the head-to-head record shows, she has found ways to combat this in the past and will start as slight favorite out on Pietrangeli.
Around the grounds...
Also looking to book a quarterfinal spot is last year's runner-up at the Foro Italico, Li Na, who takes on Jelena Jankovic. Elsewhere home hopes Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, as well as No.3 seed Victoria Azarenka, are in action.