by: Tom Cochrane

It was a tale of two tournaments on Day 1 of the 2015 Australian Open. While almost all of the big names in the men’s tournament in action on Day 1 sailed through to round 2, an astonishing 8 seeds crashed out in the women’s tournament.

Day 1 Recap

Ana Ivanovic was the first big name to fall on Day 1, the fifth seed going down to Czech qualifier Lucie Hradrecka in 3 sets. Before long, the Serb was joined on the sidelines by German seeds Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber. Bencic, Kuznetsova, Safarova and Suarez Navarro were among the other seeds to exit on Day 1, whilst setting the record straight and collecting straight sets wins were big names Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard. Other winners on the women’s side on the opening day of play included Makarova, Peng and former French Open finalist Sara Errani.

In the men’s tournament, anxious moments were few and far between for the big guns, with Nadal, Federer, Murray and Dimitrov all recording impressive straight sets wins. While Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo was forced to retire due to injury, and Latvian seed Ernests Gulbis was ousted by Aussie upstart Thanasi Kokkinakis in an electrifying 5-setter, the news was better for the other seeded men, with the likes of Gasquet, Goffin, Mayer, Kohlschreiber, Rosol, Anderson and Karlovic all booking their spot in the second round.

Matches of the Day – Day 2

1. Nicolas Almagro vs. Kei Nishikori

Nico Almagro was something of a doubtful starter for this tournament, with the Spaniard still recovering from foot and shoulder problems that curtailed his 2014 season. The former top 10 player is a clay-court specialist but also a formidable hard-courts player, and at his best would give Nishikori a real run for his money.

At present however, I don’t think Almagro has the fitness or the match practice to truly challenge the Japanese star over a best of 5 sets match. US Open runner-up Nishikori will be looking to go one step further than he did in New York, and Melbourne Park presents one of his best opportunities to go all the way. Nishikori in 4.

2. Taylor Townsend vs. Caroline Wozniacki

Former Australian Open junior champion and junior world number one Taylor Townsend represents a challenging opening round match-up for Dane Caroline Wozniacki. The eighth seeded Wozniacki recaptured some of her best form in the second half of 2014, highlighted by a run to the US Open final, and she will be eager to keep up her momentum in 2015.

Leftie Townsend is a crafty player, and did make the round of 32 in Paris last year, but is still in the developmental stage of her career and has a fair bit of work to do before she is capable of challenging the world’s best on a regular basis. That said, it will be interesting to see how she fares against Wozniacki. Wozniacki in 2.

3. Sloane Stephens vs. Victoria Azarenka

Tennis fans will recall the spiteful semi-final these two played out at Melbourne Park in 2013, when Azarenka took a dubious timeout at a critical stage of the second set with Stephens in the midst of a spirited comeback. Since then, both players have struggled to regain their best form, with 2014 an inconsistent year for Stephens and an injury-plagued season for Azarenka.

Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka is still working her way back to her best tennis, but there’s no doubt that the Belarusian loves the courts in Melbourne. On the other hand, Stephens is a proven big match player, and she will be eager to atone for her 2013 loss to Azarenka. Accordingly, this has all the makings of a blockbuster. I’ll take Azarenka by a whisker. Azarenka in 3.

4. Dominika Cibulkova vs. Kirsten Flipkens

Diminutive Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova roared into the final at Melbourne Park last year, claiming a number of high profile scalps, including Maria Sharapova, before succumbing to Li Na in the championship match. Seeded eleventh this year, Cibulkova may well find it hard to live up to last year’s heroics, and she faces a tricky opening round match today.

Flipkens is a veteran of the WTA Tour whose success at junior level never fully translated into success on the main tour. That said, the Belgian is a highly skilled all-court player and did make it through to the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 2013. If Cibulkova is on song, she’ll have too much firepower, but if she is having an off day then Flipken’s steady game could see her the Belgian claim the win. Cibulkova in 3.

5. Novak Djokovic vs. Aljaz Bedene

Slovenian Aljaz Bedene has started the 2015 season in grand fashion, emerging from qualifying to make the final of the Chennai Open and giving a decent account of himself in going down to Stan Wawrinka in the title match.

Based on his form in India, you’d expect Bedene to put in a good showing against Djokovic in this encounter, especially as the Serb has been struggling with illness for the past few days. However, Djokovic claims he is now back to full health and raring to go. In that case, Bedene beware. Djokovic in 3.

Put your house on: Top seed Serena Williams. The American superstar should wrap up her match against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck quicker than you can say Van Uytvanck.

Upset alert: Sam Stosur’s abysmal home record of late means that she is in real danger of falling to Monica Niculescu. In the men’s draw, I think Dutchman Robin Haase will push French seed Gilles Simon all the way and could pull off the upset.

Likely to go the distance: I’m backing Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci to push David Ferrer to 5 sets, while I’m also expecting the Simon-Haase clash to go the distance.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, follow all the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.


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