The opening day of the major tennis season has arrived with 32 men’s matches and 32 women’s matches. Here are five matches to keep an eye on:
Roberto Bautista Agut vs Andy Murray
Obviously, emotions will be running high as the three-time major champion takes the court for perhaps the final time in his Hall of Fame career. After announcing his retirement from tennis no later than after Wimbledon, all of the attention is rightfully on Murray as he takes on the veteran Spaniard, who won Doha, beating Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych on his way to the title. There will be a lot of long rallies and not a lot of huge serving in this one. Normally, that would favor the five-time finalist, but in his physical condition, just making this close against the 22nd seed will be a victory. Let’s appreciate Murray one last time before he calls it a career.
Kyle Edmund vs Tomas Berdych
If not for what is likely Murray’s sendoff, this would easily be the match of the day on the men’s side. Edmund enjoyed a brilliant 2018, reaching the semifinals here as well as claiming his first career title in Antwerp. He won’t have an easy time defending those points as he faces the Czech, who looked good in reaching the final in Doha as a wild card, losing in three sets to Bautista Agut. If Berdych is on, he may be able to overpower the Brit, who has some thump in his arsenal of shots. Edmund will want to test the Berdych movement by engaging him in long rallies and if the match is long, that may favor the world number 15, who won a couple of marathons in his run here one year ago. Sit back and enjoy what should be a very long affair.
Maria Sakkari vs Jelena Ostapenko
As i’ve said in my preview article, the Ostapenko serve is her biggest problem. The ball toss is all out of whack, the likely cause of her problems with that shot. If she can overcome that, her penetrating groundstrokes could be too much for the Greek. If she’s off, look for Sakkari, a very good returner, to take full advantage. The 23-year old is a feisty competitor and will make her work for every point. Both players will want to pick on the other’s forehand. Sakkari has had more match play this season, competing in the Hopman Cup with Stefanos Tsitsipas while the Latvian lost in the first round of Sydney to prepare for Melbourne. In any case, expect this to go the distance.
Petra Kvitova vs Magdalena Rybarikova
This is a very intriguing matchup on a lot of levels. It’ll be interesting to see if Kvitova is physically and emotionally recovered from her thrilling win in the Sydney final against Ashleigh Barty, where she was cramping in the final set tiebreaker. Add in the fact that there’s no day of rest in between Sydney and this match and Rybarikova could be in prime position to take advantage. The Slovak is most comfortableon grass, but she reached the fourth round here one year ago. She has a magnificent slice, something Barty used to great effect. She also has the ability to finish points at the net with some exquisite volleys. These will be important keys to counteract the powerful lefty game of the Czech, who can take the racket out of Rybarikova’s hands. A wonderful contrast in styles should provide for great fun.
Julia Goerges vs Danielle Collins
This is one of those sneaky good matches you may not think a lot about. Goerges repeated in Auckland, recovering from a set down in the final against Bianca Andreescu to become the first back-to-back winner of the ASB Classic in 15 years. Despite that, her form isn’t as good as it was last year when she entered Melbourne on the back of three straight tournament wins. She still has the huge serve and groundstrokes, but Collins is no lightweight when it comes to power, either. The American reached the semifinals of Miami and San Jose in 2018 and will have to serve well to keep up with the German. A good start will also be necessary for Collins as if she can attain it, the odds of an upset increase significantly.