Monday provided us with one of the most compelling opening days in recent Grand Slam history. As the first round of the Australian Open concludes, here are five matches worth paying attention to:
Simona Halep vs Kaia Kanepi
This has been one of the most talked about first round matches in major tournament history simply because of the fact that Kanepi handled Halep easily in the first round of last year’s US Open last year, with the Estonian winning 6-2, 6-4. It’s not just the irony and coincidence of them meeting in the same round of the next major that’s getting this match this much publicity. It’s that, despite Kanepi not having played since she reached the fourth round in New York, the conditions (a fast court and hot weather) should play right into the six-time major quarterfinalist’s hands. With her power plus Halep facing as many question marks (coachless, new racket, five-match losing streak, back surgery), it would be a surprise if the Romanian won.
Dominika Cibulkova vs Shuai Zhang
This is one of those matches, much like yesterday’s match between Julia Göerges and Danielle Collins that you may not pay attention to at first, but is great value, especially on an outside court. Both players have had success in Melbourne with Cibulkova a former finalist and Zhang a quarterfinalist in 2016. Lots of big hitting and hard serving will be on display in this one. The Slovak is a feisty competitor while the top-ranked Chinese woman is tall and athletic. If this didn’t go three, i’d be shocked. Use your grounds pass to go see this one.
Venus Williams vs Mihaela Buzărnescu
This could be a rough draw for both players. Venus is not in great form, played two warm-up matches in Auckland and is approaching 39. Still, with her power, she has the ability to hit the Romanian off of the fast courts of Melbourne. Buzărnescu is still on the comeback trail after her horrific ankle injury last summer in Canada. Staying patient, moving the American around the court and engaging in long rallies are the keys for the 25th seed. I’m not sure which way this one will go, but I wouldn’t be surprised whoever took this.
Nick Kyrgios vs Milos Raonic
If both players are playing at their best, this could be one of the most explosive first-round matches in tournament history. Each man possesses a huge amount of firepower and there likely won’t be a lot of long rallies. The serve and forehand exchanges will favor Raonic while Kyrgios has the better backhand. The question with the Aussie is his focus and attitude on court (something you don’t have to worry about with the Canadian). When he’s right, he’s as good as there is and will likely win this one. If not, expect a quick Raonic victory. I think Nick is on his best behavior here and we get a five-set classic.
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga vs Martin Klizan
It’s great to see the brilliantly talented Frenchman is back healthy and competing again. He matches up with the perenially underachieving Slovak who, when at his best, is a Top 10 talent, his explosive game capable of beating anyone (he took out Novak Djokovic in Barcelona last year). Tsonga will want to use his ability to come to net to shorten the points while avoiding long rallies with Klizan, who has a whip of a lefty forehand. His backhand isn’t too shabby, either. The winner will likely get Djokovic in the second round with either man capable of upsetting the Serb. This should be a treat.