The draw for the 2021 Australian Open has thrown up a number of intriguing first-round clashes.
Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin will be the defending champions when the first Grand Slam of the year gets underway in Melbourne on February 8.
We pick out six of the standout matches in the first round of the tournament...
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Dan Evans v Cam Norrie
Not great for long-term British interests in the draw, but a fascinating first-round match-up between the British No 1 and No 3. It will be the first time that Evans and Norrie have met at this level, with their only previous meeting coming on the Challenger Tour in 2016, which Evans won in straight sets. They have also faced off at the Battle of the Brits, where Norrie has had the better of their matches.
Evans’ best showing at the Australian Open was reaching the fourth round in 2017 while Norrie is yet to win a match at the tournament. Evans has played well in his warm-up matches at the Murray River Open, beating fourth seed Borna Coric to make the semi-finals, and for both players there’s the chance to face Rafael Nadal in the third round.
Serena Williams v Laura Siegemund
Serena Williams has only once before lost in the first round of a Grand Slam (French Open 2012), but this could be a tricky opener against Laura Siegemund. The world No 51 covers the court well and gets plenty of balls back, which could make life difficult for Williams if she is not fully recovered from the shoulder injury that saw her pull out of the Yarra Valley Classic semi-finals. It should at least be a testing start for Williams, who has won both their previous matches in straight sets.
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Jannik Sinner v Denis Shapavalov
The ‘next Gen’ vs the ‘current Gen’? Shapavalov, 21, might not quite few himself as ‘current Gen’ yet, but he has been around a few years and should be eager to make a mark this season after a largely disappointing 2020. Sinner, 19, is on the rise and is one of the most exciting young players on the tour. The Italian had some promising results last year, including reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open, where he pushed Rafael Nadal close for an hour. Both Sinner and Shapavalov bring plenty of power with their groundstrokes, meaning this should be an intriguing first match-up.
Victoria Azarenka v Jessica Pegula
Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka is looking for a strong run again in Melbourne after losing in the first round in her last appearance in 2019. She will certainly be among the favourites after an impressive season last year, but Pegula could be a difficult test. The American had some good results last year, including reaching the final in Auckland at the start of the season and making the quarter-finals of the Western & Southern Open. Her powerful and aggressive game should make this a good match-up against the solid Azarenka.
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Marin Cilic v Grigor Dimitrov
Cilic has not been in the best form over the last year, and has slipped down to No 43 in the world, but with his big serve and powerful forehand he can still make life difficult for opponents when he’s on his game. He has won four of his previous six meetings against Dimitrov, including three of the last four. Dimitrov has enjoyed his best Slam results at the Australian Open, reaching the quarter-finals twice and also memorably losing in the semi-finals to Rafael Nadal in 2017.
Hsieh Su-Wei v Tsvetana Pironkova
This might not have the star power of some of the other first-round matches, but this should be a fun watch. Hsieh is one of the most unorthodox players around, regularly slicing the ball from both wings and also throwing in double-handed drop shots. Pironkova, who made a remarkable return to the tour last summer after three years out, also has a unique style of play, which includes incorporating a forehand slice. Having never met before, this should be one to watch.
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