MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – The first day of the first Slam of the year is here, and we pick our must-see matches for Day 1
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Venus Williams v Coco Gauff | Gauff leads H2H 1-0
When US teen and rising star Coco Gauff drew Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon, it was the start of a love-affair with the Wimbledon crowd, which carried over to the US Open later that year. Playing against one of her idols, she played with poise and a grace that was very reminiscent of her opponent all those years ago, when she first graced the lawns of SW19 and made them her own.
Everything that Williams used to do, Gauff could do, with the athleticism that comes with youth, but a real maturity that has not been seen in someone so young since the Williams sisters raised the bar in women’s tennis.
Williams senior has been struggling with a hip injury and will be coming into the Australian Open without a warm-up tournament, while Gauff picked up just a couple of matches in Auckland.
It is a dream opener for the Australian Open, and Gauff has already proved she has the ability to back up the fairy-tale, having won her first WTA title in Linz at the end of the year. The script is written, and it is hard to see the veteran Williams out-do the youngster, and the prospect of seeing them together on court (perhaps one last time) is too good to miss a watch.
Ashleigh Barty  v Lesia Tsurenko | H2H tied at 1-1
Talking of a dream opener, for the first time in a long while the home-crowd have a real contender for the title this year in World No. 1 and newly minted Adelaide champion Ashleigh Barty. Ever since she returned to the tour after taking time out when her prodigious career was still very much on the rise, there has been an expectation that she can deliver.
Deliver she did, at Roland Garros, where she powered to her first Grand Slam title, and capped an amazing year as the season-ending World No. 1 and stopped the rot in a losing head-to-head to get a first win and the season-ending title over defending champion Elina Svitolina.
There might have been the odd raised eyebrow when Barty lost her opener in Brisbane, but she answered any critics resoundingly with her Adelaide run. Just the atmosphere when she walks out onto Rod Laver Arena alone will be worth a watch, as well as seeing how she handles the pressure. She will face Lesia Tsurenko whose sometimes changing temperament in the face of Barty’s usual steadiness makes it a decent enough starting point for the Aussie.
Prediction: Barty in straight sets.
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On the men’s side – we could be gearing up for another period of Novak Djokovic dominance. His performance on behalf of Team Serbia at the inaugural ATP Cup, and many see him as the likely hoister-aloft of a staggering eighth title in a couple of weeks’ time.
Jan-Lennard Struff is a steady enough player, and saw some modest success in the ATP Cup with a couple of wins, but in reality doesn’t not have the weapons or trickery to trouble Djokovic, but it is always good to get a feel for the efficiency of those at the top.
At the end of the day it is on Djokovic’s racquet to lose, but he seems to be over the elbow and shoulder injuries that have dogged him in recent years, and Rod Laver Arena has really become the Serbian’s wheelhouse.
We are at the start of a long two weeks, so we will be looking to Djokovic for an early first night so we can pace ourselves!
Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets.
Play begins on Day 1 of the Australian Open at 11am (Midnight GMT).
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