Thanasi Kokkinakis and Daniil Medvedev Thanasi Kokkinakis

Six juicy first round matches


When the Australian Open draw is made, everyone’s eyes naturally gravitate to the top seeds to see how tough they have it for a legitimate run at the title. 

But the first round also offers juicy match-ups that promise to be as scintillating as anything that happens throughout the entire fortnight at Melbourne Park. Here are six first-round matches that I want to put on your radar. They could be absolute gems.

1. No.215 Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) vs No.84 Daniil Medvedev (RUS)
Medvedev defeated Kokkinakis twice in straight sets in 2017, both on grass in the European summer. Medvedev lost last week to world No.379 Marinko Matosevic in a Tasmanian Challenger - not your ideal Grand Slam warm-up. At some stage, the 21-year-old Australian is going to make a breakthrough. I think it happens right here in his own backyard. 

PREDICTION: Kokkinakis in five sets.

2. No.62 Hyeon Chung (KOR) vs. No.34 Mischa Zverev (GER)
Zverev spectacularly defeated No.1 seed Andy Murray 7-5 5-7 6-2 6-4 in the fourth round at the 2017 Australian Open, winning a healthy 59 per cent (70/119) serving and volleying. Definitely look for the German to be all over the net again this year. The problem is that Chung has outstanding groundstrokes, particularly off the backhand wing, and Zverev will have to be at his absolute best to get through this tough hurdle.

PREDICTION: Chung in four sets.

MORE: Full men's draw

3. No.50 Denis Shapovalov (CAN) v No.80 Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
These two teenagers are both unseeded at this year’s Open. Don’t expect that next year. Shapovalov put up the 16th best overall serve numbers on the ATP Tour in 2017, averaging 10 aces a match with his nasty left-handed slice serve. He impressively came through qualifying at the 2017 US Open, reaching the last 16. The Canadian has top 10 written all over him. Tsitsipas boasts his career best ranking of No. 80 this week after reaching the quarter finals of the Qatar Open just last week. His future is also now. 

PREDICTION: Shapovalov in five sets.

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4. No.9 Johanna Konta (GBR) vs No.92 Madison Brengle (USA)
When you look at the rankings, you think Konta has got this one covered. Not so fast. The head-to-head is tied 1-1, and the hard-hitting Brengle is very capable of playing the match on her terms with her power baseline game. Konta had to retire in the quarter-finals of Brisbane last week, so her preparation is far from ideal. This looks like a wonderfully scrappy opening round match.

PREDICTION: Konta in three sets

MORE: Full women's draw

5. No.26 Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) v No.79 Kaia Kanepi (EST)
Matches like these are where you need to do your homework. Cibulkova reached the 2014 Australian Open final and boasts an impressive 19-10 win/loss record at Melbourne. Kanepi is just 6-8 in Melbourne, and has not advanced to the second round since 2012. But … Kanepi leads the head-to-head 3-1, and had a very strong showing at the 2017 US Open, reaching the quarter-finals. This is going to be a barn burner.

PREDICTION: Cibulkova in three sets

6. No.32 Kiki Bertens (NED) vs No.56 Catherine Bellis (USA)
These two have already battled in the first round of a Grand Slam, with Bellis winning 6-3 7-6(5) at the 2017 French Open. Bertens won 6-4 6-0 a week earlier in Rome, so they are very familiar with each other’s game. Bertens has only won one match in Melbourne in five years, while the 18-year-old Bellis has never competed at Melbourne Park. Bellis splashed onto the Grand Slam scene in 2016, reaching the third round of the US Open after coming through qualifying. 

PREDICTION: Bellis in three sets