January first may be the ‘official’ date we start a new year, but like the earth being round, the original Paul McCartney still being alive and Rafael Nadal having a full head of hair, we know the truth is different. “Big Calendar” can say what they want, but the year starts with the Australian Open – Happy New Year, everyone.
The first major of a new decade, we nevertheless approach it much in the same place we left the last one. For the men, it’s a question of whether anyone can dethrone the big three – or, as the case may be, just Novak Djokovic – while for the women, we seem to be stuck in something of a game of musical chairs, where Serena Williams always manages to make it to the end but ultimately miss out.
Then again, who knows? Maybe the tennis scriptwriters have something truly unique in store for us here in Melbourne – they’ve already thrown-up an interesting subplot with the smoke from the bushfires (although thankfully, the forecast indicates it will continue to subside). Maybe Coco Gauff makes the final, maybe an Aussie man makes it past the third round, maybe Sascha Zverev gets a second serve in. It’s all on the table.
Whatever the case may be, check back here each day for recommendations on three matches that will be particularly worth your time. Here’s to a great two weeks of tennis, and read on for the three-to-see on Day 1 of AO 2020:
Fabio Fognini (ITA)  v Reilly Opelka (USA) – Second on 1573 Arena
A matchup as enticing as the name of this court is terrible (I believe it’s a Chinese wine), Fabio Fognini gets a chance at revenge for the first-round upset Reilly Opelka dealt him at last year’s US Open. Winning that encounter in four (ironically his only dropped set also being the lone tiebreak), the big-serving, big-everything Opelka has shown himself more than capable of blasting the mercurial Italian off the court, although Fognini managed to level the head-to-head in a tight-three setter at the Davis Cup finals, so he’s also got cause for confidence. Either way, it should be a very fun match, with Fognini likely to find himself in many situations where he can confound the crowd, his opponent, and even himself.
Venus Williams (USA) v Cori Gauff (USA) – Third on Margaret Court Arena
Why this match is not on earlier to accommodate the US primetime audience, I don’t know, but it is still easily the biggest match of the day. A return to where it all started for Coco-Mania at Wimbledon last year, the 15-year-old once again squares-off against Venus Williams, who continues to defy her age as Gauff does her youth. Almost at a literal passing-point in their careers, the 66th-ranked Gauff will be the favourite over the 55th-ranked Venus as a result of her Wimbledon win, but she’ll have to once again weather the storm the latter will inevitably bring, and that means this should be an encounter that is entertaining as it is historic.
Marin Cilic (CRO) v Corentin Moutet – Third on Court 5
It doesn’t seem like that long ago Marin Cilic was giving Roger Federer all he could handle in the 2018 AO final, and yet here he is two years later without a seeding, heading into a first-round encounter at the same tournament that is far from a guaranteed victory. A finalist this year in Doha, the 20-year-old Corentin Moutet is the latest next-gen player to make a splash, and against Cilic he should be a particularly tough foil given he had to overcome an even bigger-hitting player in Stan Wawrinka to get there. A tricky lefty who likes to run, step into forehands and upend rallies by mixing-in everything from slice to junk balls, Moutet would present a difficult puzzle for Cilic to solve at the best of times, so don’t be surprised if under the present circumstances the big Croat finds himself in serious trouble.