Australian Open Monday Preview
Published January 17, 2010 12:00
MELBOURNE, Australia - Every new year brings the promise of a new Grand Slam season, but this year's Australian Open promises to be one of the most enthralling yet. Seven former Grand Slam champions light up the field, and eight players who've been No.1. And, of course, some of the most fascinating first-round match-ups will be fought out lower down the ranks.
Rod Laver Arena
 Maria Sharapova (RUS #14) vs. Maria Kirilenko (RUS #58)
Sharapova leads 2-1
After sitting out what should have been her title defense at Melbourne Park last year, Sharapova will be doubly eager to reassert her authority. She didn't play a lead-in Down Under, but last October won the first title of her comeback from shoulder injury - the 20th of her career - at Premier-level Tokyo. That augurs well, though a subsequent loss to Peng Shuai at Beijing suggested there was still progress to be made after the lay-off - and that may be Kirilenko's best hope. Also 22, Kirilenko has never really outdone herself at Grand Slams, though she did register her best major result by reaching the fourth round here in 2008. It may help that she won't be fazed by her more illustrious compatriot and sometime doubles partner, who beat her in the semifinals at junior Wimbledon when they were both 15. But she'll also know her sole win in their rivalry entailed a second set retirement.
Jelena Dokic (AUS #56) vs.  Alisa Kleybanova (RUS #31)
Dokic leads 1-0
Last year's fourth round clash between these two was one of the matches of the tournament, and no doubt the schedulers are hoping for a repeat performance on the first night session of 2010. Dokic famously edged that thriller 8-6 in the third, but both players have earned mixed reviews since, and 12 months later the match-up is too close to call. Hindered by illness and injury after leaving Melbourne, Dokic won just two Tour main draw matches through the rest of 2009 - though she did manage to lift her ranking with solid results on the ITF Circuit. For her part powerhouse Kleybanova, who is seeking her first victory of the year after first round losses in Brisbane and Sydney, continued to score big wins but also lost to too many lesser lights. Her current ranking of No.31 is exactly the same as it was 12 months ago, but that will probably only pique her desire for revenge.
Sorana Cirstea (ROU #44) vs. [WC] Olivia Rogowska (AUS #146)
This is exactly the sort of opportunity 18-year-old Rogowska, one of Australia's brightest prospects, has been waiting for. Cirstea made a splash when she upset Jelena Jankovic en route to the quarterfinals of the French Open last year, and duly cracked the Top 30. But the talented Romanian - only 19 herself - has stalled in recent months: she arrives in Melbourne on a seven-match losing streak on the Tour, the bright spot being a win over Samantha Stosur at the Hopman Cup. Rogowska is considerably less experienced, given the small age gap, but it is notable that her first Tour match win was scored at the expense of Kirilenko at Roland Garros, and she gave Dinara Safina an awful fright at Flushing Meadows. She's a Melbourne girl, so the conditions should suit, and she can expect the fans to play their part. The key will lie in her ability to handle the weight of expectations - most importantly her own.
More to watch…
No.15 seed Kim Clijsters plays Canadian qualifier Valérie Tétreault on Rod Laver, while wildcard Justine Henin takes on fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens on Hisense Arena. Second-seeded Dinara Safina opens her Grand Slam quest against Magdalena Rybarikova on Hisense, while freshly re-crowned Sydney champion Elena Dementieva plays fellow Russian Vera Dushevina on Margaret Court Arena. That match is followed by Jelena Jankovic - top seed last year but seeded eighth this fortnight - against crafty Romanian Monica Niculescu. No.3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has never yet been past the quarters in Melbourne, kicks off against new Australian citizen Anastasia Rodionova on Show Court 2.