The tennis season gets into full swing with the first Grand Slam of the year set to get underway later today. I pick five matches to watch on day 1 of the 2014 Australian Open.
Ekaterina Makarova (22) vs. Venus Williams
In her prime, this wouldn’t even be a contest for Venus Williams. However, the last three years have been extremely difficult for Venus as she has dealt with injury and illness. Nevertheless, there were some encouraging signs for the former world number one in her run to the Brisbane Open final to begin the season. Venus can still hit the big shots and baseline winners, but if her opponent extends rallies, she is now prone to unforced errors.
Makarova had an excellent 2013, culminating in a quarterfinal appearance at the US Open. One of the few players on the WTA tour that is comfortable at net, Makarova will have to rely on her defensive skills to drag Venus around the court. On the other hand, if Makarova makes too many forays to the net, Venus might enjoy having a target to pass. As the rallying skills of both players are suspect, the result could hinge on which player holds their composure on serve.
Heather Watson vs. Daniela Hantuchova (31)
A match between two counter-punchers, as the young Brit takes on the experienced Slovak. Both have similar styles of play, with excellent recovery skills. I have a feeling the match could be a war of attrition, in which case Hantuchova’s experience and slightly bigger game could make the difference. Watson will rely on keeping the ball in play and drawing errors from the 31st seed. However, if the match goes long, Watson’s gruelling schedule in coming through the qualifiers could count against her.
Laura Robson vs. Kirsten Flipkens (18)
Another match between a young British player and an experienced campaigner sees Laura Robson against Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens. On her day, Flipkens is one of the most tactically astute players on the WTA tour. However, since her fantastic run at SW19 last year, Flipkens’ game has tailed off. Flipkens will need to use her variety, especially her sneaky approach shots to unsettle Robson. However, the left-handed Robson’s game is getting bigger, and as long as she stays steady on her serve, I expect the youngster to knock out the 18th seed in a match that should be pleasing on the eye.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Tommy Haas (12)
Incredibly, Haas continues to play at a high level at the age of 35. The German veteran loves playing in Australia, and arguably should have won his maiden slam here in 2002. Haas has changed his game with age, mixing daring raids to the net with crafty chips and slices. Still possessing a rapier like single-handed backhand, the crowd will certainly be in Haas’ favour as he takes on the wily Garcia-Lopez. The Spaniard doesn’t posses a big game, but is adept at taking the pace off the ball with his loopy shots from the baseline. Haas should have enough finesse to progress onto the second round, but Garcia-Lopez will certainly make a few sets interesting especially if he manages to induce errors from the veteran.
Marcos Baghdatis vs. Denis Istomin
This match could end up being a shot-makers dream, as both Baghdatis and Istomin are capable of switching between sublime and ridiculous within the course of a few points. Baghdatis sadly never kicked on from his run to the Australian Open final in 2006, but still remains a crowd favourite. The Cypriot has the better all court game, but with Istomin possessing a huge serve, a couple of tiebreaks could swing this match either way, which would be in keeping with the unpredictable nature of the protagonists in this contest.