Day 1: Ones to watch

  • Tom Tebbutt

Welcome to the 32nd Australian Open held at Melbourne Park. Over the years, with rare exceptions, the thoroughbreds in the women’s and men’s fields have come through to win the Daphne Akhurst and Norman Brookes trophies. 

MORE: Day 1 preview: The wait is over

So it takes a bold, fearless (and lucky) prognosticator to ferret out the outsiders who can reshuffle the cards and wreak havoc on certain sections of the draw. We’ll do our best to pick a few of those as the fortnight progresses.

Now for Day 1. 

No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki vs. No. 52 Alison Van Uytvanck

Both players exited early in their pre-Aussie Open tournament in Auckland. Wozniacki, with a slight abdominal issue, lost to emerging 18-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu in the second round. Van Uytvanck injured her ankle and retired in the first set of her opening match and had to rest for a few days. Wozniacki, making her Grand Slam breakthrough a year ago on the same Rod Laver Arena court, beat the 24-year-old Belgian 6-1 6-4 in their only previous meeting in Rome last year.

MORE: Wozniacki embracing ‘fun’ new feeling

The Dane, 28, revealed during the year-end WTA Finals in Singapore that she has rheumatoid arthritis but has learned to manage it. In fact, she won the WTA Premier Mandatory event in October in Beijing following her diagnosis. 

Prediction: Wozniacki in two.  

No. 15 Ashleigh Barty vs. No. 67 Luksika Kumkhum

A two-hour-and-19-minute ripper of a final in Sydney on Saturday, that wound up in a 1-6 7-5 7-6(3) loss to Petra Kvitova, will not do anything for the 22-year-old Barty’s energy reserves.

That will be something to overcome as well as Kumkhum’s aggressive hitting with two hands on both forehands and backhands. The 25-year-old Thai caused a sensation in 2014 when she upset Kvitova in the first round at Melbourne Park. But exactly two years later, also in the first round, Kvitova exacted a 6-3 6-1 revenge. 

Barty is often touted as a candidate to end the 40-year victory drought of Aussie women at their home Grand Slam and could be feeling some pressure. She beat Kumkhum 6-4 6-4 in Strasbourg on clay last May. 

Prediction: Barty in three.    
 

Barty has form on her side after a strong run to the Sydney final

No. 34 Katerina Siniakova vs. No. 49 Belinda Bencic

Siniakova ranks No. 1 in doubles, but can at times be a little shaky in singles. The 22-year-old Czech is a bouncy, free-swinging player, who Serena Williams once described as having the best hair on the tour. 

Bencic may not be able to compete in that department but she did win their only previous match-up 6-1 6-2 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2013. The 21-year-old Swiss will likely be a crowd favourite after her Hopman Cup success with compatriot Roger Federer two weeks ago.

A Wimbledon junior champion in 2013, Bencic has been hampered by injuries in recent years, but now seems again pointed toward her career-high ranking of No. 7 in 2016. 

Prediction: Bencic in three. 

No. 3 Roger Federer vs. No. 99 Denis Istomin

The ageless Swiss enters the Australian Open for the third year in a row after a close-to-perfection tune-up at the Hopman Cup – comprehensively winning four singles matches against solid opposition.

Two-time defending champion Federer is 6-0 head-to-head against Istomin and has only lost two sets in those matches – but none in their last four meetings since 2013.

MORE: Knowledge is king for Federer

Two years ago the 30-year-old Uzbek, coached by his mother Klaudiya, shocked the tennis world by upsetting two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. Can lightning strike twice at Rod Laver Arena? It’s probably best to check with your most trusty Melbourne meteorologist.

Prediction: Federer in three.

No. 7 Marin Cilic vs. No. 85 Bernard Tomic

This will be a confrontation of the heavy-hitting of the 198cm Cilic versus the more nuanced shot-making of the 195cm Tomic. 

Monday at Margaret Court Arena is the fourth meeting between the 30-year-old Croat, last year’s runner-up, and the 26-year-old Aussie. Their first came at Australian Open 2010 when Cilic beat the 17-year-old Gold Coast prodigy 6-7(6) 6-3 4-6 6-2 6-4 in the second round.

Since then they have split meetings at the 2011 US Open (Cilic) and the Canadian Open (Tomic) in 2015. Bernie has only played one match (a loss) since winning a confidence-boosting title in Chengdu, China, last September. 

A rare improvisational talent matched against the more mechanical Croat, Tomic is a dangerous floater.

Prediction: Tomic in four.
 

Marin Cilic
Last year's runner-up Cilic has a tricky assignment in Tomic

No. 14 Kyle Edmund vs. No. 57 Tomas Berdych

Edmund was a semifinalist 12 months ago at Melbourne Park, and enters the 2019 Open carrying a certain weight of expectation. Bothered by a knee issue during a first-round loss to No. 185 Yasutaka Uchiyama in Brisbane, he then withdrew from Sydney. He’s certainly not at peak confidence.

Berdych, on the other hand, seems like a man re-born. The 33-year-old Czech didn’t play after June last year because of a back problem. But he returned with a vengeance in Doha two weeks ago – beating four top-55 players before losing the final to No. 24-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut.

Always a superior ball-striker, late-career Berdych, a former world No. 4 (2015), may still have statements to make on the tour.

Prediction: Berdych in three.