7 matches not to miss as Australian Open throws up wild…

7 matches not to miss as Australian Open throws up wild first round.

The Australian Open – the first Grand Slam of the year – will commence on Sunday and the draw has thrown up some enticing first-round matchups at Melbourne Park.

January is always an exciting month for tennis fans as it marks the start of the new season and the first Grand Slam of the year – the Australian Open. The vast majority of the tennis world descends on Melbourne Park to catch the pulsating action and discover who will become the first major winners of the year.

2024 is no different and ahead of the latest edition of the tournament, the draw has been made and it has produced some exciting first-round matches. Players prefer to use the opening rounds of a slam to gain some momentum and rhythm before reaching the latter stages of the event.

But some of the matches that Express Sport will mention in the list below will not have that luxury and will need to hit the ground running straight away in order to progress.

Naomi Osaka vs. Caroline Garcia

Naomi Osaka has not competed in a major since Danielle Collins defeated her at the 2022 US Open. Just six months after giving birth to her baby daughter Shai, the four-time major winner returned at the Brisbane International last week, where she was beaten by Karolina Pliskova.

Despite the challenges that lie ahead, the Japanese star is relishing the opportunity to play at the Australian Open and is confident in her chances of winning one this year. But she faces a stiff task in her opening match in the form of Caroline Garcia, who claimed the 2022 WTA Finals crown.

The Frenchwoman failed to win a title in 2023 and is now ranked at No. 20, she is keen to start her season on a positive note. Her aggressive play and big serve will prove tough for Osaka, who is lacking matches and the 30-year-old will give her no time to find the rhythm in their encounter.

Their only previous meeting came at the Australian Open in 2021 when Osaka was seeded number three. She dispatched Garcia en route to claiming her second title in Melbourne and fourth major overall. But much has changed since then and many will expect a much closer encounter when they compete in the next several days.

Carlos Alcaraz vs Richard Gasquet

Richard Gasquet was seen participating in an intense practice session with Rafael Nadal during the offseason, which was very handy now he knows who his first-round opponent is at Melbourne Park.

Carlos Alcaraz is fully fit and raring to go at the start of 2024 as he goes in pursuit of his first Australian Open title. While Gasquet, now 37, is not the force he once was, he will certainly push the Spaniard especially if he can get his signature backhand firing.

Alcaraz has not played at the first hard court Slam of the year since 2022. He ended 2023 with a crushing loss to Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals and will want to kick off 2024 on a positive note, starting by trying to record his second victory over Gasquet.

Iga Swiatek vs Sofia Kenin

Iga Swiatek and Sofia Kenin have not played one another since the Polish star beat the American 6-4, 6-1 to win her maiden Grand Slam at the 2020 French Open. Almost four years later the 22-year-old will begin her pursuit of her first title at Melbourne Park against the woman who won the title there in 2020, after shocking Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza in the final.

In the years following her triumph, Kenin struggled with injuries and suffered a dip in form, but will still be a challenge for Swiatek, who is coming off a promising United Cup showing, where Team Poland lost to Germany in the final.

The World No. 1 ended 2023 by winning the WTA Finals and now will look to beat a former champion in Australia to kickstart her latest pursuit of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Matteo Berrettini

If Stefanos Tsitsipas is to try and replicate his 2023 Australian Open showing and reach the final, he will have to go through the dangerous Matteo Berrettini.  The Greek star managed just two tournament successes in 2023, winning Los Cabos in the summer and started the year by winning the inaugural United Cup with Italy, beating his next opponent in the final.

The World No. 7 has won all three of his previous encounters with the Italian, whose 2023 campaign was interrupted due to injury. His Australian Open match will be his first since the US Open in August, and it will mark his second match against Tsitsipas at Melbourne Park. The 25-year-old has made the Australian Open final twice and he will need to rediscover some of that form to avoid a first-round upset this year.

Elena Rybakina vs Karolina Pliskova

Australian Open: Elena Rybakina defeats Victoria Azarenka to set up women's  final against Aryna Sabalenka | Tennis News | Sky Sports

Elena Rybakina was a set away from winning her second Grand Slam before Aryna Sabalenka completed a comeback to claim the 2023 Australian Open crown. The 2022 Wimbledon winner has somewhat struggled in the majors since then, but the 24-year-old defeated her conqueror at Melbourne Park 12 months ago in the Brisbane International final this past Sunday.

Despite losing early in Adelaide this week, the Kazakhstani tennis star will enter this year’s first major with the confidence and belief she can go one step further at the Australian Open, but a former Wimbledon finalist stands in the way.

Now ranked 37, perhaps the Czech player’s best days may be behind her, but the former Australian Open semi-finalist did beat Osaka in Brisbane and still has the firepower capable of beating anyone. Fans can expect a hard-hitting and big-serving affair in what is sure to be an entertaining first-round encounter.

Alex De Minaur vs Milos Raonic

Alex De Minaur began the year in an explosive manner by ending Djokovic’s unbeaten run in Australia at the United Cup. He backed up that victory by defeating Alcaraz in an exhibition match in front of a near-capacity crowd at Rod Laver Arena.

The likes of Nadal have long praised the Australian and his abilities and he looks ready to go up a level in his career. He will be wary of his first-round opponent at the Australian Open though, former semi-finalist Milos Raonic. The Canadian has struggled with injury over the last few years and has not played since last year’s US Open.

Despite languishing at number 317 in the rankings, Raonic still possesses one of the game’s most lethal serves and can cause De Minaur plenty of trouble. The rapid 24-year-old will have the crowd on his side as he endeavors to come through a tough first-round opponent to keep his hopes alive at his home major.

Dominic Thiem vs Felix Auger-Aliassime

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Following defeat to Nadal at the Brisbane International, Dominic Thiem is ready to commence another Australian Open campaign. After suffering a serious wrist injury in 2021, the 2020 runner-up has still yet to rediscover the form that took him to that year’s US Open title and a place in the world’s Top 10.

Should he be set for another strong campaign in Melbourne, he has to come through a tough first-round encounter against Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime. The 23-year-old struggled with both a knee issue and a drop in confidence in 2023, after making the US Open semis in 2021 and the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2022.

He lost his first match at the ASB Classic in New Zealand but has a chance to get back on track at the first major of the year and try and claim his first win over the Austrian.

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