Australian Open Day 2 matches to watch: Heat a factor for Federer, Nadal
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Let's take a jam-packed schedule with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and more of the game's biggest stars, pour molten lava all over Melbourne Park and see how it goes. The much-talked about heat wave is set to pound Melbourne on Tuesday, with the forecast calling for temperatures exceeding 105 degrees.
If the roofs on Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena remain open (the tournament referee has discretion to close them), then Federer, Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Agnieszka Radwanksa will be taking the court for their first matches under some intense conditions. That's a huge variable to manage.
Rafael Nadal  vs. Bernard Tomic (first night match, Rod Laver Arena): This is the first-round match everyone circled when the draw came out (the Aussies probably turned the draw sheet into a dart board). Tomic, who made the final of the Sydney International last week, has played Nadal once, a 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 loss in Melbourne three years ago. Just 18 at the time, Tomic led 4-0 in the second set before Nadal, ever the competitor, roared back. The Spaniard is the obvious favorite, but two things are in Tomic's favor. First, he'll be motivated to put on a good show for his home crowd, many of whom still haven't embraced him because of his erratic play. Also, the general consensus is that the best time to play Nadal at a Grand Slam is in the first two rounds, while he's still adjusting to the conditions.
Maria Sharapova  vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (second night match, Rod Laver Arena): Sharapova looked surprisingly good in her lead-up tournament, making the semifinals of the Brisbane International in her official return from a shoulder injury. Mattek-Sands, ranked 41st, made the quarterfinals of the Sydney International as a qualifier, beating Radwanska and Eugenie Bouchard. However, she retired from that quarterfinal with a lower-back injury, raising questions about her fitness. Mattek-Sands could give Sharapova a good test if she's fit enough.
Roger Federer  vs. James Duckworth (second match, Rod Laver Arena): Come for the Federer, stay for the quacking. The home crowd's constant quacking -- that's its cheer for the 133rd-ranked Duckworth -- will be some amusing audio for what should be a straightforward win for Federer. It will be his first match with new adviser, Stefan Edberg, sitting in his player box.
Lleyton Hewitt vs. Andreas Seppi  (third match, Rod Laver Arena): Hewitt is coming off a big win at the Brisbane International, where he beat Federer in the final, but this is no gimme match for the the Aussie. The heat will work in his favor, though, as Seppi could wilt.
Agnieszka Radwanska  vs. Yulia Putintseva (third match, Hisense Arena): Putintseva, ranked No. 112, probably won't give Radwanska much trouble. But her over-the-top intensity is always entertaining.
Andy Murray  vs. Go Soeda (fourth match, not before 5pm, Hisense Arena): Murray supporters breathed a sigh of relief when they saw that he would play his first-round match later in the day to avoid the heat. But Murray has horrible luck with scheduling at the Australian Open, so I imagine the scenario will go like this: The roof closes on Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena during the day, allowing the likes of Federer and Hewitt to play in an air-conditioned arena, and then re-opens for Murray's match. It could happen.
Sloane Stephens  vs. Yaroslava Shvedova (fourth match, Show Court 2): Stephens' tough road back to the semifinals begins against the talented Shvedova, who's lacked consistency over the last year but can still play a top-notch match.
Gael Monfils  vs. Ryan Harrison (night match, Margaret Court Arena): Take Harrison's intensity and never-say-die attitude and combine it with Monfils' innate athleticism and shot-making skills, and you'd have yourself a top-five player. Another rough draw for Harrison, but Monfils will still have to take the match from him. John Isner  vs. Martin Klizan (second match, Court 6): Isner is in solid form after winning the Heineken Open last week, but it's a different can of worms for him playing in extreme heat in a best-of-five match. Klizan, who made the fourth round of the U.S. Open in 2012, fell off the map last year and tumbled out of the top 100.