Australian Open 2018: round-one rollercoasters

Published by Alex Sharp

Belinda Bencic aims to end a four-match losing streak to Venus Williams in the first round of the Australian Open; Getty Images

The first round of the season’s first Grand Slam is always intriguing but here are five potential rollercoasters that have really caught our attention …

Juan Martin del Potro v Frances Tiafoe

Poor American teenager Frances Tiafoe. In the last Grand Slam, the 19-year-old had to take on Roger Federer in the US Open opening round, where he valiantly pushed the world No.2 to five sets.

In 2018, he has been drawn another heavyweight of the men’s game in 12th seed Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine is already in fine fettle, having soared to the Auckland finals to secure his top-10 return.

The pair’s only previous meeting was clinched by Del Potro in Acapulco last season in a third set tiebreak. Both players possess explosive power, with hammering forehands.

Buckle up for a round one rollercoaster.

Simona Halep v Destanee Aiava

World No.1 Simona Halep has fallen at the first hurdle in her past two trips to Melbourne and will be desperate to ignite her quest for a maiden major in style.

The Romanian stormed to the title in Shenzhen last week and appears refreshed and ready to roll into the first Grand Slam of the season against a local prodigy.

Aiava’s form will be particularly difficult to predict, with the 17-year-old admitting mental fatigue.

“This whole tennis thing is kind of getting to me,” said Aiava at the Kooyong Classic, who is ranked world No.193. “Hopefully after the [Australian] Open, I will get a break which is what I want and what I need.”

Halep is also under enormous pressure, so the local teenager can come out swinging freely to cause an instant shock. It will be an early gauge of how Halep fares as the No.1 seed at a Slam.

Belinda Bencic v Venus Williams

Grab the popcorn, this is going to be a firecracker.

Williams, the 2017 finalist, faces a rejuvenated Bencic, who has won 18 of her last 19 singles matches and partnered Roger Federer to claim the Hopman Cup title for Switzerland.

Venus enjoys a 4-0 head-to-head record over the 20-year-old, but Bencic is relishing in a fresh start following an injury-blighted 2017.

A three-setter on a show court is almost certainly on the cards.

Ashleigh Barty vs Aryna Sabalenka

While many big names fine-tune their game on the practice courts at Melbourne Park, home favourite Ash Barty is soaring in the sizzling Sydney heat.

On Friday, the world No.19 fought back to oust countrywoman Daria Gavrilova to book a spot in the final.

The 21-year-old has never faced the dangerous Belarusian teenager before, but this offers the chance for Barty to lay down her title credentials on home soil.

Tomas Berdych v Alex De Minaur

Well this is just a cracker.

Alex De Minaur has rocketed into the spotlight with a pulsating run to the Brisbane semifinals, ousting Milos Raonic in the process. The 18-year-old, moulded in the on-court resilience of mentor Lleyton Hewitt, has surged even further in Sydney where he will tonight contest a first career final.

Berdych, fresh from winning the TieBreak Tens title at Melbourne Park, knows this is a difficult draw and will be calling upon his wealth of experience against a rising star who clearly thrives with the strong home support.

Andrey Rublev vs David Ferrer

Spaniard David Ferrer might have slightly slipped down the rankings, but this combative competitor remains a robust opponent – just ask rising star Hyeon Chung, who won just five games facing the former world No.3 in Auckland earlier this week.

Now Ferrer has to oust another of the ‘Next Gen’ contingent, this time in the shape of Russian Rublev. He’s rapid, fiery and will aim to drag the dogged Ferrer from corner to corner.

Rublev is seeking to replicate his magnificent quarterfinal showing at the US Open, where he upset Grigor Dimitrov in the second round.

Petra Kvitova v Andrea Petkovic

Two of the most amiable and well-loved characters on the WTA Tour collide on court.

The artistic, jovial tennis hipster Petkovic faces the beaming Kvitova for a second-round ticket and the world No.101 knows she’ll need to play inspired to match the raw power of the two-time Grand Slam champion. They’ve played 11 times previously, Petra winning on seven occasions.

Kvitova’s 2017 comeback was one of the most heart-warming stories in sport and the inspired Czech will be eager to get back down to business in Melbourne.

Jaimee Fourlis vs Olivia Rogowska

An all-Australian duel provides fans with an intriguing contest.

Melbourne teenager Fourlis shot to prominence at her home Grand Slam last January with a first-round triumph over Anna Tatishvili.

Fast forward a year and Fourlis aims to prevail against compatriot and fellow Melburnian resident Rogowska, having earned a wildcard into the Australian Open draw with victory in the pre-tournament play-off and claimed her first WTA win at the Hobart International.

The 26-year-old Rogowska is attempting to book a second-round berth for the first time since 2014.

Stakes are high for each in this local derby. Who will best capitalise on the home support to achieve a second-round showing?

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