Australian Open Preview: Kyrgios & Shapovalov Headline Blockbuster Opening!
Tonight, Superbowl Sunday signals another long-awaited event: the Australian Open!
At 7 p.m. EST, the historic first Grand Slam of the season will commence its annual tournament in Melbourne Park with limited fans, but packed with new and exciting storylines set to shape an unprecedented season of tennis in 2021.
At the top of the list, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic seeks to defend his title and win his first major championship since the 2020 Australian Open, while world No. 2 Rafael Nadal will continue his quest to win his first Australian Open, but 21st Grand Slam crown.
Djokovic will have to navigate a dangerous minefield that includes reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem, 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, and reigning Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios, who is making his Grand Slam return to the tour.
Nadal will contend with an army of Citi Open stars, including world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas and recent ATP Cup champions Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev.
2016 Citi Open champion Gael Monfils leads off the action. The French star is seeded No. 10 in Djokovic’s quarter of the draw and plays Finnish Next-Gener Emil Ruusuvuori in his opening match tonight at 7 p.m. EST.
DC phenom Frances Tiafoe follows around 1 a.m EST. The 2019 Australian Open quarterfinalist will look to raise his game again in Melbourne when he faces recent Adelaide International finalist Stefano Travaglia in the first round. Should Tiafoe advance, he would likely face Djokovic in the second round.
The prime event of the night/morning, however, is a blockbuster double-header featuring the Grand Slam return of Aussie superstar and defending Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios, followed by the first-round blockbuster of the tournament: Shapovalov vs. Sinner
Defending Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios will play his first Grand Slam match since the 2020 Australian Open. In his last appearance, the Aussie made an inspired run with the hometown crowd at his back, but was stopped in four bruising sets by then world No. 1 Nadal in the fourth round, and since, has seen his ranking drop, due to his cautious response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Canberra native will look to restart his ascent when he meets Portuguese qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva around 3 a.m. EST!
World No. 12 Denis Shapovalov follows in a blockbuster opening round clash against recent Adelaide champion and world No. 36 Jannik Sinner that will mark their first career meeting. Both made their first major quarterfinal appearances during the restart, in 2020, and are widely considered to be the champion contenders of their generation.
"Possibly a breakout performance, meaning a Grand Slam final, for one of them," said tennis broadcaster Robert Bettauer. "It's not out of the question."
The winner could face another Canadian, No. 20 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who starts against lucky loser Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, of Germany, Monday, around 1 a.m. EST.
Elsewhere in the quarter, 2014 US Open champion and two-time Citi Open semifinalist Marin Cilic, who defeated Auger-Aliassime in the third round of his maiden DC appearance, faces three-time major semifinalist and No. 18 seed Grigor Dimitrov, around 10:30 p.m. EST, while 2015 Citi Open champion and former world No. 4 Kei Nishikori of Japan takes on Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, around 12 a.m. EST.
Medvedev, Rublev & Tsitsipas Loom Large
In the bottom half of the draw, Russian superstars Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev loom large. The duo just led Russia to victory in the highly-coveted ATP Cup, going undefeated throughout the competition, and trouncing Italy’s Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini in a blowout final.
World No. 4 Medvedev is probably the favorite Citi Open star to lift the big crown. The 2019 US Open finalist is also the reigning ATP Finals champion with multiple wins over the top players in the world. Positioned in the bottom half of the draw, opposite Nadal, he’ll start his 2021 Grand Slam bid against Canada's Vasek Pospisil. The pair square off Monday, around 9:30 p.m. EST.
Nipping at Medvedev’s heals is compatriot and world No. 8 Rublev, who captured five ATP Tour titles and recorded 41 match wins in a standout season last year. The 2018 Citi Open semifinalist takes on Germany's Yannick Hanfmann on Monday, around 8 p.m.
Not to be overlooked, world No. 6 and two-time Citi Open semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas will look to prevent Nadal from ever winning the Australian Open. Positioned in the bottom quarter of the draw with the 20-time Grand Slam champion, the Greek star will play Frenchman Gilles Simon in his opening match on Tuesday, around 4:30 a.m. EST
Last year, Tsitsipas reached the third round in Melbourne, before falling to 2014 Citi Open champion Milos Raonic.
A bracket below, top Aussie and No. 21 seed Alex de Minaur will be another hometown favorite. The 21-year-old Sydney native is hot. He recently won the Antalya Open and will face American Tennys Sandgren in his opening match on Tuesday, around 12 a.m. EST.
Citi Open Stars Kenin, Coco & Pegula Headline Women's Draw
(Courtesy Australian Open)
On the women’s side, 2020 Australian Open champ and No. 4 seed Sofia Kenin will look to defend her crown opposite world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty. Positioned in the top section of the draw, Kenin plays American wildcard Maddison Inglis in her opening match.
In the same section of the draw, defending Citi Open champion Jessica Pegula will take on two-time Australian Open champion and No. 12 seed Victoria Azarenka, of Bulgaria, in another opening blockbuster on Monday, around 8:30 p.m. EST.
After winning her maiden WTA title in Washington in 2019, Pegula reached the final of Auckland in 2020 and notched wins over Caroline Wozniacki, Aryna Sabalenka, Jennifer Brady, and Amanda Anisimova last season.
Should Pegula top Azarenka, she could face either Sloane Stephens or Coco Gauff in the fourth round.
Stephens, who won the Citi Open in 2015 and US Open in 2017, faces No. 26 seed Yulia Putintseva in the first round, while Gauff plays rising Swiss star Jil Teichmann. Should Gauff prevail, she could meet No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.
The bottom half of the draw will feature world No. 2 Simona Halep, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, and former US and Australian Open champ Naomi Osaka.
Gauff memorably upset Osaka the last time she appeared in Melbourne at the 2020 Australian Open. Gauff is aiming to win her second WTA title. She claimed the first in 2019 at Linz.