Before each day's play at the Australian Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
When these two towering flame-throwers met in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2014, I thought we were seeing a preview of many Grand Slam finals to come. Instead, four years later, the 23-year-old Australian and the 28-year-old Canadian are ranked 51st and 17th, respectively, and they’re meeting in the first round at the Australian Open. A combined lack of health, and lack of motivation, have kept either of them from fulfilling his potential so far.
That said, this match, the first between them since 2016, should be one of the highlights of the first two days. Raonic and Kyrgios have split their six previous meetings 3-3, and as you would expect from two of the game’s best servers, each of those matches has included at least one tiebreaker. As far as their current form goes, neither made it past the quarterfinals at their first event of 2019; but it’s the Canadian, rather than the Australian, who has typically started well Down Under. While he went out of the first round in Melbourne last year, Raonic has reached a semifinal and three quarterfinals there. For Kyrgios, playing at home has been a mixed blessing—he’s won some thrillers, and lost some. The rowdy late-day crowd in Melbourne (formerly Hisense) Arena should help make this another dramatic, and close, contest. Winner: Raonic
Halep nearly fell over when she found out that she was facing Kanepi in the first round at last year’s US Open. The big-hitting Estonian was one of the last players the world No. 1 wanted to play, and for good reason. Kanepi knocked her out in straight sets in the first match of the tournament.
When Halep she got the news that she would have to play Kanepi again, in the first round, at the very next major, she was trying on new shoes. Hopefully, for Halep’s sake, she’ll also take it as an opportunity to turn the tables and put that loss in New York in her rear-view mirror. But it won’t be easy. There’s a reason Halep doesn’t like this match-up; Kanepi is taller and stronger, with a more powerful serve and ground strokes. She nearly went on to beat Serena Williams at the Open. Halep has also split with her coach, Darren Cahill, and she didn’t look sharp in her first tournament, in Sydney, where she lost to another aggressive player, Ash Barty, in straight sets. Still, the 33-year-old Kanepi hasn’t played at all since the US Open, and Halep is No. 1 for a reason. Right?
Venus Williams vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu
Believe it or not, it’s Buzarnescu who’s the seed, and Williams who’s the “dangerous floater” in this first-rounder. Last year, the 30-year-old Romanian made a stunningly meteoric late-career rise in the rankings, while the 38-year-old American began to show some of her age, dropping out of the Top 10 and down to No. 38. That drop began in Melbourne 12 months ago, when she lost in the first round to Belinda Bencic. Can Venus use this year’s Aussie Open as a place to kick off yet another revival of a career that has already seen half a dozen of them? She’s 51-17 in Melbourne, and she reached the final there as recently as 2017. But Buzarnescu will be a challenge. Venus has never faced the wiry lefty, and she’ll have to hustle to catch up to the sharp crosscourt angles that the Romanian can create from both wings. But if Venus falls behind, she shouldn’t give up hope; Buzarnescu has a history of letting opponents back into big matches. This one may be decided by how well she can close.
Kickoff each day of the 2019 Australian Open with Tennis Channel Live, reviewing the day's most important news and previewing the day's biggest matches. Watch LIVE at 6 p.m. ET.
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