MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – The 2018 Australian Open kicks off in style and we look at three big matches to look out for on Day 1 of the Happy Slam.
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Venus Williams  vs Belinda Bencic H2H: Venus Williams leads 4-0
Not many players have been picking up match-wins after match-wins quite like the Swiss mega star Belinda Bencic has. Bencic, who was ranked outside the World’s Top 300 after an accumulation of freak and unsettling injuries, is now inside the World’s Top 80 and is looking to win her first major match since US Open 2016. The challenge that sits in front of her will be tough and is probably one of her biggest matches for quite some time, but Bencic finished the season with a ten match win streak, so will be fairly confident that she can put up a good fight and a good performance against Venus Williams.
Although Williams has yet to play a great deal of matches this season, having lost her only match of the season against Angelique Kerber in Sydney, I still think she will get the better of Bencic in this first round contest.
Prediction: Venus in three sets
Jelena Ostapenko  vs Francesca Schiavone H2H: First meeting
Another match not to be missed features two Roland Garros champions. Jelena Ostapenko won her maiden crown in Paris last year, and she faces off against the 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone. Both are in very different phases of their respective careers, Ostapenko will be wanting to consolidate her breakthrough season at Grand Slam level. She will want to ensure that that Grand Slam victory was not a flash in the pan and that she can push her name in the conversation as one of the elite WTA players.
Schiavone will not make it easy for her Latvian opponent. Schiavone is approaching the conclusion of her career, but at 37, will still chase down every ball and make Ostapenko go out and win the match playing her best tennis. This should be a cracking match to open Rod Laver Arena in a typical mouthwatering clash between the future of the women’s tour and one of the game’s great champions.
Prediction: Ostapenko in three sets
Samantha Stosur vs Monica Puig H2H: Stosur 4-1
The third tasty match to look out for is between the 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosurand the reigning Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig. Stosur never seems to find the required formula to raise her game and her performances down under. It sometimes is shocking to see a tennis game so effective – with a big kick serve and one of the game’s better forehands, but the Australian just doesn’t seem to react well to the local pressure in Melbourne. I wonder if 2018 will be a different story.
Stosur has talked about ambitions of getting back inside the World’s Top 20, but Puig will be hoping she can put those goals on hold with a good performance in this first round match. Puig had a disappointing season last year, but has the firepower to blast holes into anyone’s game. The question with Puig is whether she can play the right shots at the right times in the pressure moments. That has evaded her throughout her career, but she has the game to excel on a hard court. I expect Stosur to win in two tight sets as she dominates the head-to-head in this matchup.
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