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By Chris Oddo | Sunday January 14, 2018

Got your popcorn ready? Well, you really should—because the 2018 Australian Open is here. First ball kicks off in a few hours and we’re here to preview the action on Day 1…

See the Full Day 1 Order of Play Here

Rafa in Play

The first night session of the 2018 Australian Open will feature last year’s runner-up Rafael Nadal, who will enter the Happy Slam without an official match under his belt for the first time.

“Is the first time I am here without playing official match in my career. Is new situation for me,” Nadal told reporters on Saturday.


Nadal caused a bit of worry with his decision to pull out of Abu Dhabi and Brisbane, but it seems that his decisions were based more on a desire to peak at the right time than a severe knee injury that was not healed. “I started little bit later than what I expected,” he said. “That's why I was not able to start the year playing in Abu Dhabi and Brisbane. We decided to start later because we needed some more practice, start slow, to be fresher, little bit more fresh mentally and physically, and do things the right way. That's what we tried to do.”

Nadal will open against Victor Estrella Burgos, a late-blooming star from the Dominican Republic that has earned a lot of respect for his performance on tour over the last two years.

But the numbers favor Nadal. The Spaniard has lost just two first-rounders in his career, while 37-year-old Burgos owns a lifetime record of 1-3 at Melbourne.

Venus Faces Big Challenge in Bencic

Venus Wiliams comes in as the No.5 seed and the No.5-ranked player, and she was a runner-up last season at Melbourne. But all eyes will be on her first-round tilt with Swiss sensation Belinda Bencic, a player that is very much on the comeback trail and certainly capable of testing Williams.

Williams has won all eight sets she has played against Bencic, and her 51 lifetime wins at the Aussie Open dwarf the four that Bencic owns, but there is some real momentum behind the Swiss, who won 18 straight matches before losing to Angelique Kerber in the Hopman Cup final a few weeks ago. Granted, all but three of those matches came on the Challenger circuit, but Bencic has announced herself as a player on the rise and the former World No.7 is playing great tennis at the moment.

Williams comes in off a loss to Angelique Kerber in Sydney in three sets.

Stephens Looks to End Losing Streak against Zhang

Not only has Sloane Stephens not won a match since she claimed the 2017 U.S. Open title—she has not won a set. The American will be in action against a very tough competitor in 2016 Australian Open quarterfinalist Zhang Shuai.

Zhang famously ended an 0-14 run at majors and went on to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne in 2016. Does she have another big run of upsets in her? One thing’s for certain: Stephens, as talented as she is, is ripe for the upset.

Other Notables Day 1 Tilts

Andrey Rublev and David Ferrer will meet in a generational clash on Court 14—and Rublev is the seeded player. And he’s been practicing with a man that knows a thing or two about beating Ferrer.


Jelena Ostapenko will open the day on Rod Laver against Italian legend Francesca Schiavone. This will likely be Schiavone’s last Australian Open. Does she have more major magic in her?

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov will meet in a #NextGenATP battle on Court No.2. Shapovalov already has the grander résumé, but Tsitsipas is looking like a star in the making as well.

 

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