Giving tennis more than a shot

Australian Open – Breaking Down Differently (3.5)


Before the start of Day 1, I previewed what would be the heartbreak matches, and the popcorn encounters, of the top half, which started the tournament. I will repeat the exercise today, just before Day 2 begins. However, considering my prediction record for the first day, I will (try  to) refrain from making any.


Bottom half heartbreak matches

[2] Roger Federer vs Benoît Paire
(Head-to-head: 1-0 Federer)

The Swiss enters his 53rd consecutive Grand Slam tournament, and hasn’t known first-round defeat since, then ranked 5th in the world, he was upset by Luis Horna, then ranked 88, at the French Open of 2003.


The rest is now (glorious) history.


It was pretty dejecting to see, when the draw came out, that Benoît Paire would be his opponent. Not for Roger himself, but for Paire, who lost their only meeting, a resounding 6-2 6-2 in favour of Federer, in Basel, at the end of last season.


The only element that could play in favour of the Frenchman is his rival’s lack of match play, as Federer comes into Melbourne without having played any warm-up events beforehand. There is then quite a big chance that he will be somewhat rusty, whereas Paire has taken part in two events: Chennai, where he reached the singles semi-finals and, with Stanislas Wawrinka, won the doubles title, and Auckland where, tired and with leg issues, he lost in the first round to Yen-Hsun Lu.


For my part, I think that Paire might test Federer, but only at the start of the match, when the Swiss will still be out of rhythm. Once the machine will be started, however, Federer won’t look back.


This match is the last of the day session on Rod Laver Arena (at approximately 0:00 ET).


[19] Tommy Haas vs Jarkko Nieminen
(Head-to-head: 3-0 Haas)

This is one of those “battles of the veterans” in which you can’t help but feeling bad for the one who will end up losing, especially when one is a pure joy to watch, and the other, such a nice person that you only wish him the best.


Tommy Haas comes back after retiring midway through the Hopman Cup due to a toe injury. However, he is likely fit again now and ready to do battle.


As for Nieminen, he just lost in the quarter-finals of Sydney, and despite his ranking (70), he is not one to take the court beaten ahead of time.


This match, the last on Court 3 (at approximately 2:00 ET) might be tighter than we would think.


Special mention: [21] Andreas Seppi vs Horacio Zeballos
(Head-to-head: 1-0 Zeballos)

Surprisingly, Horacio Zeballos won the only meeting between the two players, but that was nearly four years ago, in Miami, the year the Argentine was voted the ATP Newcomer of the Year. Since then, he’s had to deal with his share of injuries and inconsistencies, whereas Andreas Seppi has had, last year, the best season of his career.


Recent winner of the São Paulo Challenger, his third consecutive title (two at the end of last season), Zeballos is finally back in the top 100 and nearing his goal of re-entering the top 50 (he reached a career high of no 41 in November, 2009). He is sure to take the court full of confidence, which he will surely need in front of such a difficult rival as the Italian.


This is a personal heartbreak match, as I like both players and will be disappointed for the one who will lose, whoever he is.


This match will be the first one on Court 13, a court without cameras, at 19:00 ET.


Bottom half popcorn match

Gaël Monfils vs [18] Aleksandr Dolgopolov
(First meeting)

The night match on MCA (not before 3:00 ET) promises, if both players come to play like we know they can, to be the most exciting of the first round.


Both Monfils and Dolgopolov are able of the craziest, most eye-popping shot making, and both can produce the just as crazy errors that come with it.


Monfils came back form a knee injury in Doha, where he lost to Daniel Brands in the quarter-finals, and then reached the semi-finals in Auckland, where he lost to eventual champion David Ferrer.


If he still lacks match fitness, this may cause him issues in the eventuality of a lengthy match. However, in his first Grand Slam in a year, we can be sure that La Monf will give his all.


As for Dolgopolov, he lost to Kei Nishikori in the Brisbane quarter-finals and can come completely boosted… or completely off.


I think the way the Ukrainian will arrive for the match will decide of its outcome.


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