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Monday, May 16, 2022

Australian Open: Returning Osaka, in-form Murray feature in gripping first-round clashes

Away from the big names and the Big 3, there are a host of gripping first-round clashes in the draw of the year’s first Major.

Written by Shahid Judge |
January 16, 2022 7:36:06 pm
(Clockwise from left): Australian Open logo, Naomi Osaka, Andy Murray (File)

Now that the action in the Federal Court of Australia is over, attention will turn towards the relayed blue surface at Melbourne Park. With Novak Djokovic’s withdrawal, World No 150 Salvatore Caruso takes up the top seed spot and will face Miomir Kecmanovic. But away from the big names and the Big 3, there are a host of gripping first-round clashes in the draw of the year’s first Major.

MEN’S SINGLES

Aces galore

This is the battle between two ‘servebots,’ when 6-foot-11 Opelka plays 6-foot-8 Anderson. The ‘shorter’ South African is seventh on the list of most aces – 7,600 in 591 matches – while Opelka has hit 2,512 (he’s 24, so that number is sure to go up). Their games aren’t just about hitting aces. Anderson is a former World No 5 and two-time Grand Slam finalist. Opelka is ranked 25, and currently on the upswing with a much-improved baseline game. They have the calibre to put on an entertaining show. But don’t expect too many long rallies.

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In-form Murray

Former World No 1 Andy Murray needed a wild card to get a main draw spot. But the World No 135 has started to regain the form that saw him win three Grand Slam titles.

On Saturday reached his first ATP final since 2019, losing to last year’s Australian Open’s surprise package Aslan Karatsev. But in his first appearance at the Australian Open since 2019, he will face the hard-hitting Nikoloz Basilashvili. It’ll be their second meeting in as many weeks.

Younger young guns

Bringing up a second generation, perhaps, of the NextGen are 22-year-old Alex De Minaur and 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti. It’s still early in their careers, but they’ve both proven their mettle. Australian De Minaur, ranked 34, is fast and dogged. Over the years he’s become more aggressive in his approach and loves competing on home soil. Musetti meanwhile had a breakthrough season last year. He’s got impressive range and variety, especially with that thumping one-handed backhand. And he loves playing on the big stage.

WOMEN’S SINGLES

Raducanu vs Stephens

Emma Raducanu’s tennis career reached its pinnacle – for now, don’t forget she’s British and so is Wimbledon – when she was the surprise winner of the US Open last year. Starting that campaign as a qualifier, no less. But the upswing to her career hasn’t exactly continued since then. In the four tournaments she’s played since that night in New York, she lost three in the opening round. Her first appearance in the Australian Open now will not be any easier as she plays a former US Open winner Sloane Stephens in what is easily the biggest tie in the first round – across draws.

All-American affair

Former Australian Open champion Sophia Kenin and 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys have had better days on tour. Both are former top 10 players, but while Kenin is still at a respectable 12, she did not have a good second half to 2020. In fact, she didn’t play at all post-Wimbledon, testing positive for Covid ahead of the US Open. Keys meanwhile, a former World No 7, has slipped down to 87. But she’s made a bright start this year by winning the Adelaide International this week.

Defending champion returns

Naomi Osaka has not had a pleasant run on tour since revealing her mental health issues at the French Open last year. She played only at the Olympics, Cincinnati Masters and US Open after the clay Slam, skipping Wimbledon. This year though, she has been undefeated so far, albeit she did withdraw from the semi-final of the tune-up event in Melbourne after an abdominal injury. She’s since claimed that she’s recovered and ready to defend her title. She will play Colombian youngster Camila Osorio.

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