Day 2 preview: Four winners start for the summit

  • Dan Imhoff

Rafael Nadal makes his return to Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday as the first player to be ranked No.1 across three separate decades.

The 2009 champion at Melbourne Park headlines a quartet of former Australian Open winners in action on Day 2, with Stan Wawrinka, Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber also due to launch their campaigns at the site of some of their greatest moments.

MORE: Day 2 schedule of play 

Following two runner-up showings in the past three years at Melbourne Park – a straight-sets hiding to Novak Djokovic last year and a five-set defeat to Roger Federer in 2017 – Nadal meets unheralded world No.73 Hugo Dellien for the first time under lights.

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Nadal will be keen to banish the memories of last year's loss to Djokovic

The 26-year-old Dellien is already paving the way as the only Bolivian man ranked in the top 500, and became the first from his land-locked South American nation to win a Grand Slam match in 35 years at Roland Garros in 2019. 

MORE: AO2020 men’s draw

Nadal, though, represents a marked step up as the reigning French and US Open champion, a player whose longevity at the top has surprised even the man himself.

“Something that’s difficult to imagine for me because for my style of game, as a lot of people said, my career should be little bit shorter,” Nadal said. “But here we are. Happy for that. Even for me [it] is a big surprise to be where I am at my age.”

Since Caroline Wozniacki’s and Simona Halep’s 2018 breakthroughs, Czech Karolina Pliskova has arguably inherited the unwanted tag of the best woman yet to win a major.

After saving four match points to stun Serena Williams in last year’s Australian Open quarterfinals, the flat-hitting Czech came up just short to eventual champion Naomi Osaka in the semifinals. It marked the only time in 2019 she passed the fourth round at the majors, yet she still finished the season behind only Ashleigh Barty in the rankings.

MORE: AO2020 women’s draw

The blue hard courts in Australia suit the No.2 seed well, as she warmed up by winning her third Brisbane title earlier this month. But her opponent, Kristina Mladenovic, has also tasted success on these shores in recent months as the unbeaten star of France’s victory over Australia in the Fed Cup final in Perth. The pair has split their four previous meetings.

“I don't know actually in which form she is right now. I know it's going to be a lot about me,” Pliskova said. “Even if she's playing great, I think I can still beat her. Of course, I need to match the level and be little bit better.”

John McEnroe has already tipped Russian Daniil Medvedev as the man most likely to break the Big Three’s grip on the majors in 2020, and on Tuesday night the fourth seed does battle with last year’s quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe.

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Medvedev looks set to challenge more regularly for major trophies

The 23-year-old Medvedev beat the American in straight sets in Washington last year only weeks before making a run to his first major final at the US Open, where he stretched Nadal to five sets. Tiafoe, 21, comes into the match ranked No.50, and will draw on his impressive run last year in which he downed seeds Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov at Melbourne Park.

As one of six Grand Slam-winning women to begin their Australian Open 2020 campaigns on Tuesday, Sharapova faces arguably the toughest ask when she squares off with Croatian No.19 seed Donna Vekic at Rod Laver Arena.

The two heavy ball-strikers have met just once before when five-time major champion Sharapova prevailed at Roland Garros in 2018, but the pair’s ranking trajectories have since moved in opposite directions.

Since falling to Barty in the fourth round at Melbourne Park last year, the 32-year-old Sharapova has dropped outside the top 100 and required a wildcard to make this year’s main draw, while Vekic scored two tough wins in Adelaide over Anastasija Sevastova and Maria Sakkari.
 

Sharapova won the women's singles title in 2008

While the focus has shifted heavily to Australian world No.1 Barty, defending champion Osaka and Williams’ bid to tie Margaret Court’s record, Halep has enjoyed a low-key lead-up to the season’s first major.

After arriving in Melbourne as the top seed for the past two years, the Romanian has slipped slightly to occupy the fourth seeding in 2020.

Last year’s Wimbledon and 2018 French Open champion meets 49th-ranked Jennifer Brady first up, the in-form American who beat Sharapova and Barty in Brisbane leading in. Halep narrowly defeated the 24-year-old in Toronto last year.

The only player to have beaten Williams in an Australian Open final, 2017 champion Kerber, returns to Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday night when she meets Italian qualifier Elisabetta Cocciaretto. Former No.1 Kerber has never played the 175th-ranked 18-year-old.