Each day during the Australian Open, Steve Tignor will look ahead to three of the most compelling matches in each draw.
This is turning into an annual event. Sloane and Vika have played in Oz each of the last two years. In 2013, Azarenka won a controversial semifinal; last year she won a routine fourth-rounder. It’s not a great sign for either player that they’re now meeting in the first round. Azarenka is on the mend after a frustrating 2014, while Stephens, her ranking down from the teens to the 30s, has a new coach and is trying mightily to have a new attitude as well. It’s still hard to say what Vika will do from day to day; she lost her opener in Brisbane. But one thing she seems to know how to do is beat Sloane in Melbourne. Winner: Azarenka
In the age of 32 seeds, it has become hard to find a competitive first-round match-up involving a highly ranked male player. This may be the closest we get, at least on paper. Almagro reached No. 9 in the rankings a couple of years ago, has made the quarters in Melbourne, and last spring he beat Rafael Nadal on clay. But he underwent foot surgery soon after and has played just one match since June. Nishikori lost a close one to Raonic to start the season, but that shouldn’t shake his confidence enough to produce an upset here. Winner: Nishikori
These two played two weeks ago in Auckland, and Wozniacki was a 6-1 7-6 (4) winner. In the round before that, Townsend, 18, recorded a quality win over Yanina Wickmayer. And since then, Wozniacki has retired from the Sydney event with a wrist injury. Can the raw but skilled American take advantage? The match will be on her racquet, but the result will still probably be decided by Caro’s wrist. Winner: Wozniacki
Yes, it has to be a weak day for this one to make the cut. But American fans may be curious to see Querrey, who is currently ranked a respectable No. 35 and would seem to be poised to go higher. And Canadians will want to get a look at Pospisil, the toothy 24-year-old who has spent the last two years making it look like he’s bound for the Top 10. In reality, he’s ranked No. 60 at the moment. Winner: Querrey
Aga won their only meeting, in Cincy last year, 6-2, 6-2, but Nara is ranked No. 39, not too far out of the seedings. Even if the match isn’t competitive, it will be worth watching to see what effect, if any, Radwanska’s new coach, Martina Navratilova, has had on her game. Martina has long shown her tactical savvy in the commentator’s booth; we’ll see how it translates from the player’s box. Winner: Radwanska
La Monf returns to his home away from home: Margaret Court Arena in the evening. The loose atmosphere over there inspires his showman's side, so much so that he might throw the first two sets just so he can make it interesting later. But Monfils might not want to mess around too much against his fellow Frenchman. Pouille, ranked No. 117, came out of the qualifiers to reach the semis in Auckland last week. At 20, he may be destined for better runs than that in the near future. Winner: Monfils
Elina Svitolina va. Yulia Putintseva. There will be screams. There may be blood.
Madison Keys vs. Lesia Tsurenko: Like Aga with Martina, Keys will make her debut with new coach Lindsay Davenport.