Australian Open: Five fascinating first-week ties

By Christopher Devine 13 January 2017
Australian Open: Five fascinating first-week ties

A number of tantalising matches are in prospect during week one of the Australian Open, after the singles draws took place on Friday.

We take a look at the most intriguing contests thrown up by the respective men's and women's draws.

 

R1: Novak Djokovic v Fernando Verdasco

Despite losing his position at the top of the ATP rankings to Andy Murray at the end of 2016, Novak Djokovic will surely take some stopping at Melbourne Park - a venue at which he has triumphed in five of the last six years.

However, the six-time Australian Open champion will begin the defence of his title against arguably the toughest opponent possible, in the form of Fernando Verdasco.

Now 40th in the rankings but a former top-10 player, the Spaniard possesses a fearsome forehand, plenty of big-match experience and comes into the tournament in good form, having spurned five match points in a semi-final loss to Djokovic in Doha.

Verdasco knocked out Rafael Nadal in the first round last year. Could an even bigger scalp come his way next week?

 

R1: Belinda Bencic v Serena Williams

Djokovic is not the only big name facing a tough test in round one. Serena Williams begins her bid for a seventh title in Melbourne against talented Swiss Belinda Bencic.

Still only 19, Bencic has slipped to 48th in the rankings - primarily due to injury troubles - but was a member of the top 10 as recently as last year.

Given Williams' recent form has been less than spectacular, the youngster may fancy her chances as she seeks to remind the world of her undoubted ability.

 

R2: Daria Kasatkina v Eugenie Bouchard

Bencic is one of five teenagers in the WTA top 50 and the highest-ranked member of that group, Russia's Daria Kasatkina, is in line to encounter a second-round opponent who famously broke through as a 19-year-old at this event in 2014 by reaching the semi-finals.

Eugenie Bouchard has struggled for form and fitness in the last couple of years - most notably following a locker-room fall at the 2015 US Open that saw her suffer concussion.

It surely cannot be long before a player of Bouchard's gifts is back inside the top 10, but the Canadian will do well to overcome Kasatkina, who beat world number one Angelique Kerber in Sydney this week - at a tournament where Bouchard also impressed.

 

R3: Tomas Berdych v Roger Federer

Former world number one Roger Federer has been handed a seemingly kind start. The veteran faces a qualifier first up and will face another in round two should he progress, as expected.

Barring early shocks, though, Federer will have to contend with a notable step up in quality in round three, with Tomas Berdych his likely opponent.

The losing finalist to Federer at Wimbledon in 2010, Berdych has repeatedly fallen short in the latter stages of grand slams. However, the Czech has reached the last eight at Melbourne Park in six successive years and would represent a stiff third-round test for Federer, a player short of matches following his return from a lengthy injury lay-off.

 

R3: Alexander Zverev v Rafael Nadal

Another mouth-watering third-round tie is in prospect if 14-time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal and rising star Alexander Zverev can come through their opening tests.

The only teenager in the ATP top 50, world number 24 Zverev has two recent wins over Federer on his CV - including a victory in the Hopman Cup earlier this month.

Like Federer, Nadal arrives in Melbourne somewhat short of tournament action. Zverev is capable of taking advantage.

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Christopher Devine

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