Day One Marquee Matches
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (9) vs Marcos Baghdatis
This intriguing first-round matchup features two former Australian Open finalists. Buoyed by the large Greek population in Australia, Baghdatis, a former Aussie Open junior champion, reached the 2006 final, losing to Roger Federer. Unfortunately, his ranking peaked that year at 8th in the world after he reached the Wimbledon semifinals. Now 30, Baghdatis is reaching the last part of the average tennis career but is still ranked a respectable 48th.
Tsonga, the 2008 finalist, has had a much more consistent ranking since his Aussie final. With the exception of a brief spell, Tsonga has been a top-20 player for the last five years and is a perennial threat in the second week of majors, twice making the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon. Baghdatis still plays at a high level, but Tsonga is the better player. Look for him to be pushed in this matchup.
Prediction: Tsonga in four tight sets
Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Kei Nishikori (7)
Kohlscreiber, typically a top-20 player, has made the fourth round at Melbourne Park three times. The Australian Open is one of Nishikori’s stronger majors, with the quarterfinals marking his best showing. Typically, this would be a late-round matchup. However, Kohlschreiber narrowly missed being seeded due to his ranking of 34. Nishikori has yet to make a substantial challenge to the Big Four, but this could be his season. Look for great tennis between these two, with both being pushed to the limit.
Prediction: Nishikori in five
Novak Djokovic (1) vs Hyeon Chung
Djokovic is a five-time Australian Open champion and this year’s favorite. Of any major, he has had the most success in Australia. Coming off a six-loss season, he dismantled Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-2 in Doha last week and says he is “playing the tennis of my life.”
Chung, just 19, is part of the rising generation of young players that includes Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex Zvrev. The 51st-ranked Chung is talented and had a good season in 2015—he lost to Stan Wawrinka at the U.S. Open in three tiebreak sets and was voted the ATP’s Most Improved Player. He has demonstrated the ability to compete with the best players, and he could push Djokovic.
Prediction: Djokovic in four
Serena Williams (1) vs Camila Giorgi
Serena’s 2015 season effectively ended with her loss in the U.S. Open semifinals. Serena pulled out of a Hopman Cup match last week, and, though there are rumors of a nagging injury, Serena told reporters that she is fully healthy. It is a risk to doubt Serena, who has the habit of proving naysayers wrong. This first match will set the tone for Serena’s Australian Open, and, thus, her season. It will be a tall task for 35th Giorgi. Look to this match for a prognosis on Serena’s Aussie Open.
Prediction: Serena in straight sets
Daniela Hantuchova vs Svetlana Kuznetsova (23)
In another matchup of former top-10 players, Hantuchova and Kuznetsova should provide the Court 3 audience with quality tennis. Kuznetsova is coming off a decisive win in the Sydney final and seems to be playing well. Hantuchova’s best days are past her, though she did reach the Aussie semis in 2008 for the best major showing of her career. Look for her to challenge Kuznetsova.
Prediction: Kuznetsova in three