Serena Williams not worried about injury, or what lies ahead. Read: https://t.co/eSyN4R4kpY #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/MQm1o9eAbt— TENNIS.com (@Tennis) January 16, 2016
Except when it does. And this Australian Open draw promises drama from the very first round. There are several noteworthy match-ups, including two I consider to be on the "must see" level (which probably means they'll be on in the middle of the night in my time zone--my luck).
First, a look at those two:
Darya Kasatkina vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
When I saw this, my first thought was, "Oh, no! One of them will go out in the first round!" Now that I've had some time to digest the draw, my current thought is "Oh, no! One of them will go out in the first round!"
Let's be real. Schmiedy's season, so far, has been a bust. I don't know why. She beat Timea Bacsinszky (who's also having a poor start to the season) in the first round in Sydney, then lost to eventual finalist Monica Puig in the next round. She lost to Varvaro Lepchenko in the first round in Brisbane. Schmiedlova won a total of only four games in the two matches she lost during the 2016 Australian season.
Can she turn it around in Melbourne? Yes, but facing Kasatkina in the first round is a bit of a nightmare for any player. The impressive young Russian isn't likely to let nerves get the best of her, and the Schmiedlova backhand (and improved forehand) is going to have to do a lot of work if the 27th seed is going to advance to the second round. I do expect a very good match.
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Dominika Cibulkova
It's equally hard to fathom that one of these players will be gone by the second round. Cibulkova, the 2014 finalist, is unseeded, and Mladenovic is seeded 28th. Cibulkova is a hard hitter who can wear down almost anyone on a good day. Mladenovic is a very creative player whose serve ranges from outstanding to not-so-good, depending--I assume--on her confidence level. If she brings her best serve, she can make matters quite difficult for Cibulkova. We never know, however, which Kiki is going to make an appearance.
What about the other first round matches of interest?
Defending champion Serena Williams could have been luckier than to draw Camila Giorgi in the first round. Giorgi double-faults a lot and can go to piece. She might go to pieces. But the hard-hitting Italian might also decide to take it to Williams and turn this into a lively contest.
Genie Bouchard vs. Aleksandra Krunic: This is, I think, the kind of setting that really revs up The Bracelet, as Krunic has been named over at WTA Backspin (she is the Serbian Fed Cup team's lucky charm--when they remember to put her on the roster). Bouchard is, of course, a wonderful player, but her fortunes haven't been that good in a while, and she just lost in straight sets to Alize Cornet in the Hobart final. The Bracelet could make things difficult for her and maybe get into her head.
Sara Errani vs. Margarita Gasparyan: We may need a cautious upset alert here, though Errani will most likely handle Gasparyan.
Yulia Putintseva vs. Caroline Wozniacki: Bless the chair umpire.
Kristyna Pliskova vs. Sam Stosur: Always an upset alert at the Australian Open.
Tamira Paszek vs. Roberta Vinci: Paszek is looking really fit and has been on a roll lately. Vinci won't have an easy time of it.
Samantha Crawford vs. Danka Kovinic: I mention this only because Crawford has (rightfully) gained so much attention lately. But she'll have to be really calm and on her game to get past JJ's protege.
Caroline Garcia vs. Barbora Strycova: I think this match will be a lot of fun, that is, unless Garcia has a head cave-in. But I expect some stylish and creative tennis.
Venus Williams vs. Johanna Konta: If anyone can give Williams a good early challenge, it's Konta.
And now for a peek at some possible second round matches:
If Belinda Bencic wins her first round (against Alison Riske) and Heather Watson wins hers (against Timea Babos)--and both of the those scenarios are very likely--then we should get what could be one hell of a match between Bencic and Watson. The Brit tends to thrive when she has an underdog status (which is much of the time), and her game just keeps improving.
I expect Aga Radwanska to advance to the second round, and in that round, she'll get either Bouchard or Krunic. Fun.
I also expect Hopman Cup champion Daria Gavrilova to advance, and in the second round she should play Petra Kvitova. Gavrilova likes the scent of blood and won't hesitate to take advantage of whichever "off" Petra might show up--and here's hoping all of the "off" Petras have been banished from Melbourne!
It's very likely that Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (who plays Kirsten Flipkens in the first round) will advance to the second round to almost certainly meet Garbine Muguruza. Muguruza is dealing with a foot injury, and is quite vulnerable to going out early. Lucic-Baroni wouldn't hesitate to carry out the job.
2nd seed Simona Halep is likely to get Alize Cornet in the second round, unless Cornet turns out to be exhausted from her Hobart run and loses in the first round. But if the Frenchwoman should play the Romanian, Halep may have to keep her head about her. Cornet can be all over the place, but when she's hot, she's on fire, and she's the kind of player who can stoke Halep's temper.