The tennis season is well underway and attention now turns to Melbourne for the Australian Open. The first Grand Slam of the year – and my personal favourite – has an incredible eight Brits in the singles this year. And Day 1 is where it’s at for the Brits, with all singles players, bar Jo Konta, taking to the stage.
Here’s our preview of each game involving the Brits on Day 1!
Harriet Dart vs Maria Sharapova (00:00 GMT)
When Harriet Dart entered the qualifying rounds for the ITF $25k event in Altenkirchen last February, there is no way she could have imagined how much she would have progressed. After coming through three tricky qualifying matches in Melbourne, Harriet has an absolute dream draw: Maria Sharapova on the Rod Laver Arena.
Dart has nothing to lose and, if she doesn’t hold back, could cause the Russian plenty of headaches. Sharapova was forced to retire in her last match against Aryna Sabalenka in Shenzhen, while she also struggled against Xinyu Wang at the same tournament. Harriet comes into the match having won seven matches already this season. Can she pull off the ultimate upset?
Whilst it would be amazing, I think Sharapova will have too much for Harriet. Let’s hope the Brit enjoys her moment on Rod Laver, after working so hard to get there over the last 12 months.
Verdict: Maria Sharapova in three sets
Heather Watson vs Petra Martic (00:00 GMT)
Heather Watson has only ever won three times in Melbourne, and she faces a big task if she is to add to this tally. Having lost both main draw WTA matches this season, Watson will be looking to cause an upset over a player who has proven consistency is key if you want to make your way up the rankings.
Petra Martic’s record in Grand Slams recently has been fantastic. Last year, the Croatian lost in the fourth round, and will be looking to use her seeded ranking this year to have a similar run. Like Watson, Martic has lost her main draw WTA matches this season – falling to Sofia Kenin in Auckland – so there is a chance for Watson. But the Brit has to have belief in her second serve, which has been problematic recently.
However, if the Brit can land more first serves, and back up her second, then there is no questioning that she will be a nightmare opponent for Petra Martic on Monday. Confidence is key.
Verdict: Petra Martic in two sets
Katie Boulter vs Ekaterina Makarova (00:00 GMT)
The tennis season might only be two weeks in, but Katie Boulter has already experienced so many emotions. From the highs of playing Serena Williams at the Hopman Cup, to the frustration of losing to Greet Minnen in Hobart qualifying, Boulter will be looking to put that shock defeat behind her as she faces the unpredictable Ekaterina Makarova in Melbourne.
The Russian hasn’t played this year and will have rustiness to shake off for sure. Indeed, her last victory came way back in August, having suffered four successive defeats towards the end of 2018.
An on-form Katie Boulter should have enough to cause an upset and claim a career-first Australian Open main draw victory. And I think she’ll do it.
Verdict: Katie Boulter in two sets
Dan Evans vs Tatsuma Ito (03:00 GMT)
Dan Evans is back in a Grand Slam main draw for the first time since his ban. And boy do we know he’s back. During the qualifying draw, Dan hit perhaps the shot of the season – and we’re only in January!
And after coming through three rounds of qualifying, the Brummie faces a fellow qualifier in Japan’s Tatsuma Ito. After surprising Lorenzo Sonego and Simone Bolelli in qualifying, 30 year-old Ito will be looking to win just his third main draw match in Melbourne.
Both players will see this match as winnable, and with the opportunity to play a certain Mr Federer in the second round, both are unlikely to leave anything behind on the court. Expect a thriller.
Verdict: Dan Evans in four sets.
Kyle Edmund vs Tomas Berdych (03:30 GMT)
Kyle Edmund couldn’t have asked for a tougher opening round Grand Slam match when defending Semi-Final points. Ok, so Tomas Berdych isn’t Nick Kyrgios, but he is experienced and looking good after an excellent run to the Final in Doha.
All eyes will be on whether Kyle has fully recovered from the injury that forced him to withdraw from the Sydney International. Having benefited from practicing with Roger Federer, Kyle will look to build on a breakthrough 2018 by clinching a first win of the season.
Berdych won’t be easy, but Kyle should just about have enough to get over the line. Just about.
Verdict: Kyle Edmund in five sets
Cameron Norrie vs Taylor Fritz (06:30 GMT)
Two days after reaching a first ATP singles final, Cameron Norrie will be thrust straight into the action on Monday as he faces his doubles partner Taylor Fritz.
Norrie, who lost in the Auckland Classic Final to Tennys Sandgren, actually defeated Fritz in the Quarter-Finals. But Grand Slams are a different kettle of fish, and both players will see this as an opportunity to progress in Melbourne.
If Norrie can recover from his run in Auckland, you have to make him the slight favourite to claim on opening round victory. However, two days’ rest, plus travel from New Zealand, means Norrie could have some rustiness to shake off.
Verdict: Taylor Fritz in four sets
Andy Murray vs Roberto Bautista-Agut (07:00 GMT)
What an emotional week it’s been for everyone involved in British tennis. Andy Murray’s announcement that he will be retiring this year has been met with unprecedented support and appreciation for everything he has brought to tennis. Now the dust has settled, slightly, attention must now turn to the tennis as he faces the very talented and in-form Roberto Bautista-Agut.
The Spaniard stunned Novak Djokovic en route to clinching the ATP title in Doha, where he also defeated Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka. He is ready to make it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career, and you wouldn’t expect being under the spotlights will phase him.
Fittingly on the night schedule, Andy Murray has given British tennis fans unimaginable joy. It’s highly unlikely that he will cause an upset on Monday, but then again this is Andy Murray we’re talking about…
Verdict: Roberto Bautista-Agut in three sets
Image: Andrew Campbell