Australian Open Day 1 matches to watch: Venus plays marquee match
MELBOURNE, Australia -- With the imbalanced draw on the men's side, the first day of the Australian Open is noticeably underwhelming. Novak Djokovic (who plays No. 96 Lukas Lacko) and Serena Williams (who plays 17-year-old Australian Ashleigh Barty) will headline the night session, and the women will supply a majority of the marquee matches.
Venus Williams vs. Ekaterina Makarova  (first match, Margaret Court Arena): It's a tough opener for Venus, who is coming off a runner-up finish at the ASB Classic. Makarova, a talented lefty who has made the quarterfinals in back-to-back years, knocked out Serena in the fourth round in 2012. If Venus can get past this match, she has a fairly forgiving road to the fourth round, which would be her best showing at a major since 2011.
Li Na  vs. Ana Konjuh (second match, Hisense Arena): Konjuh, 16, the reigning Australian Open junior champion, blitzed through qualifying to earn a date with Li. While Li is far and away the better player, Konjuh is an unknown and that could rattle the two-time finalist.
Samantha Stosur  vs. Klara Zakopalova (third match, Rod Laver Arena): Zakopalova defeated Stosur 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Hobart International a few days ago. Stosur has been dismal on home soil, but she's 2-0 against the Czech at the Australian Open.
Laura Robson vs. Kirsten Flipkens  (first match, Show Court 3): Robson insisted that she's recuperated from a left-wrist injury, which prompted her to retire from her only lead-up tournament, the Hobart International. Flipkens hasn't shown nearly the form that earned her a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon last year. This one is difficult to call, but Robson has shown a penchant for upsetting seeds at a Slam; she toppled Kim Clijsters and Li at the 2012 U.S. Open and ousted Petra Kvitova in Melbourne last year.
Juan Monaco vs. Ernests Gulbis  (second match, Court 6): Monaco, a former top-10 player, has slipped to No. 42 and is only 6-9 at the Australian Open. But Gulbis has an even worse track record, with a 1-5 record in Melbourne. That said, it's the best match on an outer court by far.
Sam Querrey vs. Santiago Giraldo (first match, Court 8): Querrey actually has a nice draw into the fourth round if he can find his top level. He should beat the 69th-ranked player from Colombia, but this could easily go five sets.
Madison Keys vs. Patricia Mayr Achleitner (second match Court 11): I like Keys' draw, which sets her up for a quarterfinal run if she plays her best. She's one to keep an eye on.
Marcos Baghdatis vs. Denis Istomin (night match, Margaret Court Arena): With the strong Greek population in Melbourne, Baghdatis in a night match on MCA is a must watch. Istomin is no pushover, so it should be a good one.
Casey Dellacqua vs. Vera Zvonareva (second match, Show Court 3): No matter how this match turns out, it's a feel-good story. Either Zvonareva, the former WTA No. 2, rebounds from her injuries and wins her first match since the London Olympics, or the home crowd will enjoy a victory from Dellacqua.Upset special: Alison Riske vs. Elena Vesnina  (fourth match, Court 8). Vesnina withdrew from the ASB Classic with an ankle injury and retired from her second-round match in Hobart with a hip injury. This is a big opportunity for Riske, who could easily make the fourth round.