THE Australian Open draw has produced a host of salivating first-round clashes with the potential to decisively shape the outcome of the championship.
And with Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams facing difficult opening round challenges, the heat will be on from the outset at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic faces Fernando Verdasco, the 2008 semi-finalist here, while fellow six-time champion Williams meets Swiss Belinda Bencic.
Other opening-round blockbusters include the firebrand showdown between Fabio Fognini and Feliciano Lopez and Milos Raonic against flamboyant Dustin Brown.
US Open winner Marin Cilic takes on volatile Pole Jerzy Janowicz in another explosive match.
Sam Stosur (Heather Watson), Johanna Konta (Kirsten Flipkens) and Aggie Radwanska (Tsvetana Pironkova) all have tough openers.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC V FERNANDO VERDASCO
Yikes. Rafael Nadal was the unlucky one last year and now it’s Djokovic’s turn. Verdasco beat Nadal in five sets in the opening round of the Australian Open in 2016 and Djokovic has already played Verdasco this year — in Doha — and needed to save five match points before defeating the Spaniard. The pair have met 13 times before, with the world No. 2 holding a 9-4 lead in the head-to-head battle. Verdasco’s last victory over Djokovic was way back in 2010. Nevertheless, this one is a do not miss. Seriously.
MILOS RAONIC V DUSTIN BROWN
World No. 3 Raonic hopes to go one better than last year’s semi-final effort at this year’s Australian Open and he’ll need to get past the enigmatic, dreadlocked Brown. If you haven’t heard of him, think athleticism and theatrics like Gael Monflis — just a German-Jamaican version — who’s capable of pulling off the impossible. He’s entertainment plus. Raonic and Brown have played just once before, with the Canadian recording a straight sets victory in the first round of last year’s US Open.
SAM STOSUR V HEATHER WATSON
The Ashes, tennis edition. Stosur has, historically, struggled at her home Grand Slam so any first-round match-up is going to be tough despite having the crowd behind her. Watson once served for the match against Serena Williams at Wimbledon and should have defeated the 22-time Grand Slam champion. She’s more than capable of causing an upset, boasting victories over Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki, Lucie Safarova and Dominika Cibulkova. The head-to-head sits at 2-0 in Stosur’s favour, their last match a straight sets but tough 7-5 6-3 victory for the Aussie.
JOHANNA KONTA V KIRSTEN FLIPKENS
Konta’s breakout season began with a semi-final appearance at last year’s Australian Open and is in good form heading to Melbourne having made the final of the Sydney International but faces a tough opening round clash against Flipkens, who beat her in three sets in Mexico in March last year. Konta does, however, hold a 2-1 lead over the world No. 73 in the head-to-head but Flipkens won’t hold any fears facing the Brit in the opening round. Upsets are always abound in the first rounds of Grand Slams and this one will be one to watch with interest.
SERENA WILLIAMS V BELINDA BENCIC
Book this one in for a Rod Laver Arena night session. Of all the players Serena Williams could have drawn in the first round, Belinda Bencic is arguably the worst possible result. Bencic is only unseeded because of an injury lay-off and was ranked seven in the world in February last year. The two players have met twice before, with the head-to-head record locked at 1-1. In her 16 Australian Open appearances, Williams has never lost before the third round. Is that streak about to end?
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA V TSVETANA PIRONKOVA
Being a high seed is meant to give you some protection in the draw. But there will be nothing easy for world number three Agnieszka Radwanska when she takes on the 63rd ranked Tsvetana Pironkova. The pair met in the fourth round of last year’s French Open, with the underdog Pironkova coming out on top in three tight sets. Over 12 career meetings, Radwanska leads the head-to-head 9-3 and has won the only meeting on a hard court.
FABIO FOGNINI V FELICIANO LOPEZ
Talk about two contrasting styles. This opening round match has five sets written all over it. Serve-volley maestro Feliciano Lopez (ranked 28) will meet flamboyant Italian Fabio Fognini (ranked 47) in one of the most evenly matched first round clashes. The pair met in the second round of Wimbledon last year, with Fognini racing to a two set lead. However, 35-year-old Lopez clawed his way back into the clash before winning in five sets. If we are treated to anything close to that, it is sure to be a must-watch encounter.
News Credit Goes To This Website