Australian Open Tuesday Preview
Published January 18, 2010 12:00
MELBOURNE, Australia - The top half of the draw gets its turn on Tuesday, which means defending champion and No.1 seed Serena Williams is on the schedule - along with 63 other players intent on stealing her Australian Open crown.
Julie Coin (FRA #75) vs. [WC] Alicia Molik (AUS #173)
Former world No.8 Molik must be heartened by her progress since returning to tennis late last year. Set to turn 29 this fortnight, she put in the hard graft, crisscrossing Australia from tropics to desert on the ITF Circuit, and the work paid off with Tour wins in Brisbane and Hobart in recent weeks. This match is perfectly winnable too, assuming the big-server can keep her nerves in check. For her part, Coin has done a good job of advancing her career after finally winning her first Tour match in her mid-twenties - upsetting Ana Ivanovic at the 2008 US Open, no less. That match gave the Frenchwoman, who enjoyed success as a college player in the US, a taste for the big occasion, so she won't be fazed by this meeting. But the Australian crowds, while being utterly fair, have a knack for getting their girls over the line.
Lucie Safarova (CZE #41) vs.  Venus Williams (USA #6)
Williams leads 3-0
Safarova in full flight is a sight to see: she's tall, rangy and possessed of powerful groundstrokes - a kind of left-handed Venus, in fact. Not surprisingly, this means the almost-23-year-old can match it with the game's biggest hitters, no problem. But ever since she threatened to crack the Top 20 a couple of years ago her body has baulked, injury after injury stalling progress. The worry this time is that, after pushing Kim Clijsters to three sets in the quarters at Brisbane, Safarova retired early in her first match in Hobart due to a pectoral muscle strain. Fitness, therefore, will be key today, but two of this pair's three matches have gone to three sets, most recently at Roland Garros last year. Venus arrives with a couple of exhibitions under her belt, but as last year's early loss here to Carla Suárez Navarro showed, she can be vulnerable at the start of the season.
Alizé Cornet (FRA #51) vs.  Francesca Schiavone (ITA #18)
Schiavone leads 3-1
Twelve months ago Cornet was knocking on the door of the Top 10 and would have been the favorite in this match, but much has happened since then. In fact, her difficult sophomore year as a top flight player might even be traced to France's 5-0 Fed Cup drubbing by Italy last February, which for Cornet included a heartbreaking 8-6 third set loss to Schiavone. Still only 20, she arrives in Melbourne having slipped out of the Top 50, and while a quarterfinal finish in Auckland was a solid start to a fresh campaign, it won't help that Schiavone was her conqueror there too. Indeed, the feisty Italian, who turns 30 in June, is coming off a dream season in which she helped her country capture the Fed Cup and won the biggest title of her career in Moscow. Both players wear their hearts on their sleeves, and neither will want to let go.