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Australian Open 2009: Day 1 Predictions

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It’s Grand Slam season again. The Australian Open, the Grand Slam tournament of the Asia Pacific, kicks off with action from superstars like Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro. Federer will headline play on Tuesday, but for now, these are my predictions for Monday.

Pick of the Ladies' Matches:

Maria Sharapova vs. Maria Kirilenko
Rod Laver Arena 11:00 a.m. Monday Melbourne/7 p.m. Sunday US Eastern

Back after a long injury break, Sharapova has not lost a match here since lifting the trophy in 2008. It’s interesting to note that Clijsters hadn’t lost a match at the US Open before her comeback, and she’s the defending champion now, so Sharapova would be hoping for the same kind of fortitude.

Having played Kirilenko three times before, Sharapova emerged victorious twice, whilst retiring trailing 1-2 in the second set of the semifinals in Beijing in 2005. The two haven’t met since 2006 and Kirilenko has plummeted to No. 58 in the world rankings. And yet, since all the matches between these two have been hard fought, so will this one.

Prediction: Sharapova be victorious in two tough sets; one of them going to the tie break.

Other matches on Rod Laver Arena:
Easy wins for Clijsters, Nadal, Murray, and a tough-fought three-set win for home favourite underdog Jelena Dokic.

Other ladies’ matches to watch out for:

• Henin on her comeback trail should wipe the court of Hisense Arena with her compatriot Kristen Flipkens.

• Anna Chakvedatse should upset No. 12 seed Flavia Pennetta if she were to play with any of the class that had her in the top five of women’s tennis.

Pick of the Men's Matches

Radek Stepanek vs. Ivo Karlovic
Court 6 –
11:00 a.m. Monday Melbourne/7 p.m. Sunday US Eastern

Stepanek is on great form, ending runner-up to Roddick at the Brisbane International. But Karlovic, the big-serving Croat, is a danger to anyone receiving who isn’t named Federer.

Stepanek has not yet lost a match to Karlovic, and probably won’t if he plays anywhere near his best, but you can expect this to be a long battle with plenty of easy service holds, especially for Karlovic. The two had an incredible Davis Cup match last year, going to 16-14 in the final set, while all the others were decided on tiebreaks. Stepanek can run down almost anything and is a veteran of the long drawn match whilst Karlovic has, well, probably ace No. 40 for the match all set up.

Prediction: Very tough to call, despite Stepanek’s class on paper. I’m picking Stepanek in 4 sets, with three going to the wire.

Other men’s matches to watch out for:
• Marin Cilic playing veteran Fabrice Santoro who is “not playing a comeback” match. Expect Cilic to win easily, on the back of his Chennai defense.

• Not much excitement on the first day of the men’s event, with probably easy wins for Roddick, Del Potro and Gael Monfils.

• There should be plenty of excitement from the local crowd while watching 17-year-old Bernard Tomic. Last year he was the youngest man to make the second round. He shouldn’t do much better this time, but you can bet he’ll command a crowd nonetheless when he takes Margaret Court Arena.

• The only possible upset could be James Blake against former runner up Arnaud Clement.

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