Set Your Alarm: Six Must-See First Rounders In Melbourne
Ah, mid-January, one of the best times of the year for tennis fans. Our favourite sport is back and into full swing, with the first Grand Slam of the year, the Happy Slam, kicking into action.
But the start times of the matches in Australia, the time differences! Calm down. We say embrace the early starts, the 3 a.m. or 6 a.m. or (insert your alarm time here) beginnings. You can pick and choose which days you arise early, but definitely turn your phone alarm on high in time for these first-rounders in Melbourne.
The #NextGenATP American against the one-time Grand Slam champion (2009 US Open) who played better than almost everyone to finish the 2017 season. Del Potro was 38-16 last year, but finished on a 20-5 run, which included a quarter-final (Paris, l. to Isner), two semi-finals (US Open, l. to eventual champion Nadal; Shanghai, l. to eventual champion Federer) and two finals (Stockholm, d. Dimitrov; Basel, l. to Federer).
Del Potro, who will return to the Top 10 on Monday for the first time since 4 August 2014, is starting well in 2018, too. The second seed in Auckland will play for his second ASB Classic title on Saturday against fifth seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
But Tiafoe also prefers the big stages and the blinding lights. The 19-year-old, who is the third-youngest player in the Top 100, nearly shocked Roger Federer in the first round of the 2017 US Open, falling 6-4 in the fifth. “I want to win matches like this,” Tiafoe said after the defeat. “I feel like I can play against anyone in the world. Now it's a matter of finishing these types of matches.”
David Ferrer (ESP) vs. (30) Andrey Rublev (RUS)
FedEx ATP Head2Head Series: First Meeting
At first glance, it might look as if we've misplaced the 30th seed marking. Shouldn't Ferrer, the 27-time ATP World Tour titlist and one of the all-time maximisers of talent, have the number next to his name? Ferrer is close, at No. 38 in the ATP Rankings. But Rublev has rightly earned the seed.
The #NextGenATP Russian celebrated his maiden ATP World Tour title last July in Umag and has provided plenty of supporting evidence since that triumph. At the US Open, Rublev, then 19, upset two year-end Top 10 players (Dimitrov, Goffin) to become the youngest US Open quarter-finalist since Andy Roddick in 2001. Rublev played his way into an Australian Open seed by reaching the final at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open (l. to Monfils) in Doha during week one of the 2018 season.
Thus far in the new campaign, Ferrer has resembled his former World No. 3 self more than his No. 38 self. Ferrer reached the ASB Classic semi-finals in Auckland before falling to Delpo.
The 35-year-old Spaniard will certainly have the experience edge against Rublev. Ferrer is making his 16th consecutive appearance in Melbourne, which is the sixth-most appearances of all-time. The two-time semi-finalist (2011, 2013) is 41-15 at the Australian Open. His first-round record: 13-2.
If you like your tennis big and powerful, set three alarms to watch the 6'8” Anderson try to tee off against the 6'2” Edmund, who also likes his tennis served with force. Anderson has never advanced past the fourth round in Melbourne, but he has maybe also never been playing as well as he is right now.
The South African, who reached his maiden Grand Slam final at the 2017 US Open (l. to Nadal), is a spot away from his career-high ATP Ranking (No. 10) and spent week one reaching his 14th tour-level final. Anderson fell to Frenchman Gilles Simon at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune.
Edmund, the top Brit playing in Melbourne, has shown an impressive fighting side so far this season. Before 2018, the 23-year-old had played in 40 deciding sets and won only 35 percent of them (14-26), according to his FedEx ATP Win/Loss Record.
But during week one at the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp, Edmund toughed out two three-setters, defeating future rivals Hyeon Chung of South Korea and #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov. In the quarter-finals, Edmund fell 6-4 in the third set to World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov.
Years from now, this could be an Australian Open final. But for now, it's an enticing look into the future of the ATP World Tour and possibly a preview of who we'll see at the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
Tsitsipas, 19, is the second-youngest player in the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings; Shapovalov, 18, is the youngest. But the 19-year-old Greek, whose forehand in Doha had television commentators remembering a certain American great named Pete, has gotten off to a better start in 2018. Tsitsipas reached his second ATP World Tour quarter-final at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha (l. to No. 5 Thiem) during the season's first week.
Shapovalov, meanwhile, is 1-2 after a first-round loss to Edmund in Brisbane and a second-round defeat against Del Potro in Auckland. The 18-year-old remains upbeat about his chances in Melbourne. It will be both players' first main draw showing at the Australian Open.
“I’m pretty optimistic for the next tournaments,” Shapovalov said.
This first-round match has danger pasted all over it for Berdych, who's seeking his first Grand Slam title in his 57th Grand Slam appearance. This will be Berdych's 15th Australian Open. The 32-year-old Czech has reached the semi-finals at every Grand Slam, including twice in Australia (2014, 2015).
The World No. 20 ended his 2017 season after the China Open in Beijing last year because of a back injury. It was his first season without a title since 2013. He lost in the second round of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha to German Jan-Lennard Struff to start the season.
#NextGenATP Aussie de Minaur is on quite the opposite trajectory. Few players have started the year better than the 18-year-old from Sydney. De Minaur, who counts Aussie legend Lleyton Hewitt among his mentors, reached the semi-finals at the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp (l. to Harrison) and will play in the final of the Sydney International on Saturday evening against Russian Daniil Medvedev.
De Minaur has won 11 of his past 12 matches and is the youngest player to make the Sydney final since Hewitt won the event in 2000. In Melbourne, he'll be seeking his second Grand Slam victory (also 2017 Australian Open) with the home crowd behind him.
It's one of the most intriguing questions of the 2018 Australian Open: How will Djokovic fare? No one has won the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup more than Djokovic, who, with six titles, is tied for the all-time lead with Roy Emerson. Seven wins during the next two weeks and Djokovic will stand alone.
But the 14th seed hasn't played a tour-level match since the 2017 Wimbledon quarter-finals (ret. Berdych) and fans and pundits alike will be inspecting his match, searching for answers for the following questions: How will his surgically-operated on right elbow do under match pressure, and just how match-tested is the elbow that caused Djokovic to miss the last four months of the 2017 season?
The Serbian isn't facing an “excited-to-be-here” rookie, either. Young, No. 63 in the ATP Rankings, has posted his best Grand Slam results on hard courts. The 28-year-old American made the fourth round of the 2016 US Open, and his two ATP World Tour finals came on hard courts as well.