Before each day's play at the 2020 Australian Open, we'll preview three must-see matches.
Nick Kyrgios (23) vs. Gilles Simon
A 24-year-old vs. a 35-year-old. The 26th-ranked player in the world vs. No. 61. An Aussie playing in Melbourne, and a Frenchman far from home. Everything stacks up in favor of Kyrgios here. Yet: In their one previous meeting, last summer at the Citi Open, Simon pushed him to a 6-4, 7-6 (5) finish. Which actually makes sense, because Simon has a two-handed backhand, which helps him block back Kyrgios’s biggest weapon, his serve; and he has a knack for keeping the ball low, which make the 6’5” Aussie bend. Simon could give Kyrgios fits for a set or two, but I’m guessing Kyrgios will be motivated enough by the home crowd not to let him win three.
Belinda Bencic (6) vs. Jelena Ostapenko
The Swiss and the Latvian have had similar career trajectories so far. Both burst onto the WTA scene—Ostapenko by winning the French Open on her 20th birthday, Bencic by beating Serena Williams and four other Top 10 players in Toronto when she was 18. Both suffered precipitous plummets, due to injury and loss of confidence. But both found their feet again. You know about Bencic’s comeback; she’s the No. 6 seed, and is coming off a semifinal run to the US Open. You might not know about Ostapenko’s, but she finished 2019 on a high note, with a title in Luxembourg and a runner-up finish in Linz. Now they’ll meet on the big stage, first up in Margaret Court Arena on Thursday. Ostapenko leads their head to head 1-0, but when it comes to their returns to form, Bencic is a step ahead.
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Federico Delbonis
Two matches for Rafa, two clay-court-loving opponents from South America. The first of them, Hugo Dellien, managed just five games over three sets, and never forced Rafa to leave his comfort zone from behind the baseline. Can the 29-year-old, 76th-ranked Delbonis do any better? The head-to-head record isn’t encouraging. Nadal is 3-0 against the Argentine, and has dropped just 10 games in six sets. Delbonis is a lefty, which should be of marginal help, and he hits harder than Dellien. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to win a set.