The Australian Open is called the happy slam for a reason, as the first two days of the tournament always bring the joy and excitement of the Australian summer out, whether you’re watching in person in Melbourne, or at home on your tv, or other streaming device. With every court streamed this year, there is plenty of action to watch in the men’s first round, and here is a look at what should be the best of it.
What to Watch for in the first two days of the 2016 Australian Open Men’s Draw
What to Watch On Monday (Sunday Night in the USA)
Show Court Match of the day: (7)Kei Nishikori vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Nishikori has made the second week of this slam four times, while Kohlschreiber has reached week two in Melbourne three times, one of them will go home in the first round this year. They have never played an ATP match before, so it’s a rare first time meeting between experienced players. Nishikori struggled at his warm-up tournament in Brisbane, while the one handed backhander Kohlschreiber has been in a relative decline over the past few months. Nishikori could find his bid to make a deep run smothered before it begins if he drops this match, but he’s still the favorite.
Seeds in danger: (28)Andreas Seppi, (14)Gilles Simon
Seppi faces Teymuraz Gabashvili, a streaky opponent he handled with ease at the US Open last year. Gabashvili reached his first ever ATP semifinal in Sydney though and enters a run of form, while Seppi, who made a run last year in Melbourne, has been in miserable form for a while.
Simon struggled in his warm-up tournaments prior to the AO, the former quarterfinalist got a difficult opening round opponent in Canadian Vasek Pospisil. Pospisil has had relative success at the AO before and his big serve and power baseline game may allow him to take it to the counterpuncher. Simon’s experience still makes him a favorite though.
Young Guns in action include Kyrgios, Coric, and Thiem
Teenagers Hyeon Chung, Quentin Halys, Yoshihito Nishioka, Omar Jasika, Borna Coric and Noah Rubin are in action, along with the rising Dominic Thiem, Jiri Vesely, and Nick Kyrgios.
The 19 year old Chung is already South Korea’s best at #51 in the world, but he has to play #1 Novak Djokovic. 18 year old Jasika has yet to win a tour level match, but he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Nick Kyrgios against Illya Marchenko.
Kyrgios opens his tournament against Pablo Carreno Busta in a match he’s the favorite in. Borna Coric and Dominic Thiem are also favorites against veterans Albert Ramos and Leonardo Mayer respectively. Vesely is a bit of a forgotten man, sitting right at the top 40, at 22. He opens against Renzo Olivo.
McEnroe charge Rubin, a young American, captured his first Challenger title late last season, and continues to grow into his game. He lacks a tour level win and the tricky Benoit Paire is a tough opponent to start with in a slam. Halys, 19, also lacks a tour level win, he opens with veteran Ivan Dodig, and the Frenchman is one of the few up and comers for his country in men’s tennis right now. The speedy Nishioka won three tour level matches last year, and the 19 year old adds to the stable of Japanese talent. He opens with a winnable match against Pablo Cuevas.
French shotmakers including Tsonga and Paire In Action
In addition to Simon’s match, Halys, and of course the exciting Benoit Paire, a handful of other French men will play on Monday. #9 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is looking to get his quest for a deep run off to a good start against aging former finalist Marcos Baghdatis, who always has wild fans in Melbourne. It’s a battle of former finalists. as Tsonga has outpaced Baghdatis career wise in the past few years.
Qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert opens his quest to make a dark horse run against dirtballer Pablo Andujar. Herbert has had great success in doubles, and solid, but more limited, success in singles. The young French with a lanky game influenced by doubles, appears poised for a breakthrough soon.
Veterans Paul-Henri Mathieu, and Julien Benneteau are on opposite ends of the spectrum compared to Herbert and Halys. PHM is ranked just inside the top 100, and hasn’t had an above .500 tour level season since 2008. He opens play against fellow veteran Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Benneteau was injured for almost all of last season, the player famous for lacking an ATP title will face Nicolas Almagro, who has also struggled to come back from injuries. Those latter three matches will be France vs. Spain.
What to Watch on Tuesday (Monday Night in the USA)
(Likely) Show Court Match of the day: (WC)James Duckworth vs. (WC)Lleyton Hewitt
James “ducky” Duckworth has spent more time on the challenger tour than the ATP tour over the past few seasons, and at 23 is a relative journeyman. The Australian could end the career of two-time Grand Slam champion, and former world #1 Lleyton Hewitt on Tuesday however. Hewitt announced his retirement last year, and it’s long been known the end was coming, still for a player who has given so much to the game, and fought through so much, it’s sad to see the curtain close for rusty.
Hewitt didn’t have his first losing season on tour until last year, and the decline in his baseline game has been sharp. He also hasn’t been an elite player in some time. Still he’s kept himself very busy during the Australian tennis season, playing a variety of farewell matches across the country, and now it will all end in Melbourne.
Given the circumstances one has to think Hewitt is more likely to go out against David Ferrer, as Duckworth may be a bit star struck by everything going on.
Seeds in danger: (32)Joao Sousa, (20)Fabio Fognini, (18)Feliciano Lopez, (31)Steve Johnson
Sousa has about an even chance at victory against veteran Mikhail Kukushkin, Fognini showed hard court promise at the US Open last year, but could fall victim to a lack of focus, and serve and volleying veteran Gilles Muller. Lopez faces spirited qualifier Dan Evans, and he’s in relatively poor form to do it in. Johnson is 0-2 this year and faces Chennai semifinalist Aljaz Bedene, who may not be healthy. Look for one or more of these seeds to tumble out.
Big Servers in action including Raonic, Isner, and Anderson
Milos Raonic, John Isner, and Kevin Anderson all have chances to reach the second week, but they’ll need to get off to good starts to do it. Raonic opens against Lucas Pouille, who he just defeated in Brisbane, the Manitoba missile’s good form gives him a shot at a dark horse run. Isner faces underachieving Jerzy Janowicz, and Anderson is opposite fellow Illinois Fighting Illini graduate Rajeev Ram, a serve and volleyer. Hopefully the South African is healthy.
Other big servers include Lopez and Muller, and Sam Groth against Adrian Mannarino, with the home Aussie struggling. Serve and volley tennis will be well represented by Lopez, Ram, Nicolas Mahut, and also Radek Stepanek, all of whom are trusted veterans with shots at winning a round or more, as a healthy Stepanek could be a threat.
Brian Baker’s Comeback 2.0
He’s unlikely to defeat Italian veteran Simone Bolelli, but do take time to appreciate 30 year old American veteran Brian Baker, who is now making his second comeback after serious injury. Baker hasn’t played since 2013, and prior to that he came back from an extended layoff to reach the ATP tour again. Baker nearly reached the top 50 in his last comeback, and playing with a protected ranking, he surely has his sights on getting back to that point. Let’s all hope this elbows, knees, and toes are all able to stay in working order this time, as he’s quite the inspiring story.
Young Americans in action including Sock vs. Fritz
Baker and Isner represent veteran Americans playing on Tuesday, while a crop of young Americans will also take to the AO grounds. The marquee team USA matchup is (25)Jack Sock vs. (Q)Taylor Fritz. Sock reached the Auckland final, and also played in the Hopman Cup, as he’s been quite busy in his bid for the top 20. He came down with the flu recently however, and his physical shape could be a concern. Fritz has risen quickly since turning pro last Summer he won the Happy Valley challenger, and then qualified after his opponent Mischa Zverev choked in the third set. Fritz is a huge talent, but I’m not sure he’ll win his slam debut.
Ryan Harrison has popped up once again as slam qualifier, this time against a beatable opponent in Andrey Kuznetsov, as he bids to return to the top 100. Lucky loser Bjorn Fratangelo could also advance, his opponent is aging qualifier Stephane Robert, a true journeyman.