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Australian Open 2019: Ten first round matches to watch

Andrew Hendrie in News 11 Jan 2019
  • We've picked out 10 of the best first round matches to watch from the 2019 Australian Open
  • Includes Halep vs Kanepi and Kyrgios vs Raonic
Andy Murray during a practice session in Melbourne (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

The 2019 Australian Open promises to be an electrifying spectacle right from the very first serve - read on below as we pick out 10 of the best first round matches to watch.

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Men


Stan Wawrinka vs Ernests Gulbis

Without doubt the biggest match between unseeded players at the 2019 Australian Open as 2014 champion Wawrinka comes up against former top 15 player Gulbis. Both players are capable of jaw-dropping shotmaking and explosive power from both wings, making this a box office showdown between two of the game’s biggest entertainers. Furthermore, both have been on the comeback trail from injury and have been delivering promising form of late, with Gulbis making the final of Stockholm to end 2018 and Wawrinka beating Karen Khachanov to reach the Doha quarter-finals to launch 2019. Whoever wins has the potential to go on a deep run in their section of the draw.

Milos Raonic [16] vs Nick Kyrgios

Indeed, the winner of Wawrinka vs Gulbis will face the winner of Raonic and Kyrgios in the second round in this juicy mini-section of the draw. Raonic, a former World No. 3 and Wimbledon runner-up, has been trying to recapture his best tennis for the last couple of years now, but injuries keep surfacing and deny him momentum, while Kyrgios - who slipped out of the top 50 for the first time since 2014 this week - is one of the most dangerous floaters in the draw. Both players are former quarter-finalists at Melbourne Park and are equipped with booming serves - don’t be surprised if multiple tiebreaks are needed to decide this one!

Dominic Thiem [7] vs Benoit Paire

Upset potential is high in this match-up as seventh seed Thiem squares off against the enigmatic and supremely talented Paire. Thiem is still struggling to produce his best tennis consistently on hardcourts and lost his only match of 2019 in the first round of Doha to Pierre-Hugues Herbert, while Paire advanced to the quarter-finals of Chennai before an opening round exit in Auckland, where he was suffering from extreme jet lag. The pair (no pun intended) actually met at the Australian Open in 2017, with Thiem running out a four-set winner. Expect Paire to take at least one set again - and maybe more two years later.

Marin Cilic [6] vs Bernard Tomic

Love him or hate him, Bernard Tomic always commands attention during the Australian summer of tennis, and all eyes will be on the tennis bad boy as he clashes with last year’s runner-up Cilic in the first round. Both players are yet to play a competitive match in 2019, with Cilic withdrawing from Pune with a knee injury and Tomic deciding to simply not compete, although the pair both played at Kooyong this week. Cilic and Tomic are no strangers to one another at Melbourne Park - they actually met nine years ago in the second round when Tomic was still a teenager, with the Australian stretching him to fives sets in a late-night thriller. Could we see them go the distance again?

Roberto Bautista Agut [22] vs Andy Murray

Still on the comeback trail from hip surgery that he underwent this time last year, Murray couldn’t have asked for a much tougher draw outside the top seeds than No. 22 Bautista Agut. The Spaniard is one of the form players on tour coming into the Australian Open, beating World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on his way to the Doha title last week, while he also beat Tomas Berdych in the final. Meanwhile, Murray’s only competitive hit-out came in Brisbane last week when he beat James Duckworth before falling to Daniil Medvedev. Whatever happens, it promises to be a gruelling an energy-sapping contest, but perhaps Murray can draw upon his flawless 3-0 and 7-0 set record against the 22nd seed…

EDIT: This match takes on a whole new meaning with Murray announcing that he could be forced into an early retirement after the Australian Open due to his ongoing hip injury...

Women


Simona Halep [1] vs Kaia Kanepi

Without a win since August, top seed and World No. 1 Halep couldn’t have asked for a much tougher draw in the opening round, coming up against her U.S. Open conquerer Kanepi. The Estonian powerhouse has carved out a reputation for being one of those unseeded players no top players wants to face in the early rounds - and Kanepi, who has made multiple major quarter-finals, proved it again in New York when she blasted Halep off the court. The Romanian has barely played since, shutting down her 2018 season with a back injury before the WTA Finals and losing to Ash Barty in her first match in Sydney. Kanepi, who has been plagued by injury and illness throughout her career, hasn’t played since the U.S. Open either, but this is a match-up Halep would have wanted to avoid in R1.

Mihaela Buzarnescu [30] vs Venus Williams

A fascinating clash in styles awaits in this opening round showdown as 30th seed Buzarnescu meets two-time runner-up Venus. Buzarnescu has been one of the WTA’s most improved players over the last couple of year, rising from outside the top 500 and into the top 30, but her rapid progress up the rankings was derailed by an ankle injury sustained in Canada last year. The Romanian has only won one set in her five matches since, meaning Venus, who beat Victoria Azarenka to begin her season in Auckland, will be confident of digging out the win and possibly setting up a third round meeting later on with Halep….

Madison Keys [17] vs Destanee Aiava [WC]

Pray for the tennis balls as two of the hardest hitters on tour collide in a big first round contest. Former semi-finalist Keys has never been one to adopt a busy schedule at the best of times, and the American has stuck to that philosophy to start 2019, deciding not to play a warm-up tournament ahead of the Australian Open. Aiava, who has endured a bit of a tough time as of late, is trying to work her way back towards being one of the sport’s brightest young prospects, and began the year in promising fashion when she qualified for the Brisbane International. The Aussie teenager caused immense trouble to Simona Halep last year in Melbourne - maybe this is her time to take out a seed?

Petra Kvitova [8] vs Magdalena Rybarikova

After barely winning a handful of matches combined at the four majors last year, will Kvitova finally go on a deep run at Melbourne Park this fortnight? The powerful Czech is into the Sydney International semi-finals at the time of writing and is favourite to come away with the title, but will the short turnaround have a negative affect on her Australian Open chances? Rybarikova is one of the trickiest players to face going around, but the Slovakian brings woeful form into Melbourne, losing her last seven matches dating back to August.

Caroline Wozniacki [3] vs Alison Van Uytvanck

Defending champion Wozniacki faces an uphill battle to go back-to-back in Melbourne after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints, in August last year. The Dane’s results haven’t been too impressive as a result, and she comes into her title defence on the back of a second round defeat in Auckland. Van Uytvanck is a proven giant-killer at slams having eliminated Garbine Muguruza at Wimbledon last season, and if Wozniacki isn’t at her best, the Belgian has a great chance to take the scalp of the defending champion.

The 2019 Australian Open is live from Melbourne between January 14-27.

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Australian Open 2019: Ten first round matches to watch

The 2019 Australian Open promises to be an electrifying spectacle right from the very first serve - read on below as we pick out 10 of the best first round matches to watch.

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