The 2018 Australian Open is ready to get underway and here are the five matches to keep an eye on for the opening day:
Venus Williams vs Belinda Bencic
Unquestionably, the marquee match of the first round. Williams comes into Melbourne with little preparation, losing to Angelique Kerber in the second round of Sydney while Bencic has already taken the Hopman Cup title with Roger Federer and the Kooyong crown on Saturday. Although the American has won all four previous meetings between the two, it would surprise no one if the Swiss won. Returning Williams serve, especially the second ball, will be key for Bencic. Looks to be a three-setter no matter the outcome with the winner having to like their chances of a deep run going forward.
Aleksandra Krunic vs Anett Kontaveit
The Serb has all the shots needed to be successful and her clever, unusual style is always fun to watch. In a way, her lack of consistent results adds to her charm when she pulls off upsets in majors as she has done before. Kontaveit is a power player and will look to bully Krunic around the fast courts of Melbourne. If the Estonian can be patient, she should outlast the Serb in what could very well be another three-setter. Watch both backhands here.
Dominika Cibulkova vs Kaia Kanepi
Another match with definite upset potential. Kanepi reached her sixth career Grand Slam quarterfinal at last year’s U.S. Open and she has the ability to outslug Cibulkova from the baseline. The Slovak looked good in Sydney last week, beating Anastasija Sevastova and Elena Vesnina before losing to Kerber. Could be the hardest hitting match of Day 1 and one that the former finalist in Melbourne should not be taking lightly. A healthy Kanepi (as it seems she is) is a dangerous opponent to almost anyone in the draw in the opening rounds.
Sloane Stephens vs Shuai Zhang
U.S. Open champion draws tough assignment in the first round. Zhang upset Simona Halep in the opening round in 2016 on her way to the quarterfinals. Stephens is the better mover while the box may be ticked for Zhang in the power department. American needs this badly to restore some confidence after her brilliant run in New York, which was the last time she won a match. Another one that could go either way. Both will happy at the speed of the courts.
Shuai Peng vs Marta Kostyuk
As most of you know if you read my seed reports, I like to highlight the little-talked about stories and this is another one. Kostyuk is just 15 and much like Anastasia Potapova did at Wimbledon last year at 16, the Ukranian has qualified for the main draw at the same major where she won the junior title the year before. Unlike the 294th-ranked Potapova, who had a winnable match against Tatjana Maria (which she unfortunately retired from in the second set with a left knee injury), Kostyuk drew a much tougher assignment. Peng employs two hands off of both sides and has a decent serve. Comfortable on hard courts as evidenced by reaching the U.S. Open semifinals six years ago, she should win this match easily, but it will be both fun and interesting to see how the 521st-ranked Kostyuk handles the occasion.