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AO Tuesday: Maria & Vika In Action

Maria Sharapova is looking to return to Grand Slam-winning form, while Victoria Azarenka begins her quest for her third straight Australian Open crown.

Published January 13, 2014 12:10

AO Tuesday: Maria & Vika In Action
Maria Sharapova

MELBOURNE, Australia - Two-time defending Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and 2008 Australian Open winner Maria Sharapova will be among the contenders on court as those on the bottom half of the draw play their openers.

Tuesday, First Round

Rod Laver Arena
[3] Maria Sharapova (RUS #3) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA #41)
Head-to-head:
Sharapova leads 5-0
Maria Sharapova likely remembers her series with Bethanie Mattek-Sands fondly. Not only has she been victorious in all five encounters, but four of the 10 sets she has won have been 6-0. And the first of those contests was the Russian's very first professional match win at an ITF Women's Circuit event in Pittsburgh in 2002. Though a shoulder injury sidelined her for the latter part of 2013, Sharapova appeared to have shaken off the rust with a semifinal outing at her 2014 debut in Brisbane. The four-time Grand Slam champ is looking for her 40th match win here and her 150th Grand Slam match win.

As for Mattek-Sands, things are looking up for her of late, having recorded her second Top 5 win over No.5 Agnieszka Radwanska en route to a quarterfinal outing last week in Sydney. That lifted her to No.41 on the rankings, her highest rank since September 2011.

[2] Victoria Azarenka (BLR #2) vs. Johanna Larsson (SWE #91)
Head-to-head:
Azarenka leads 1-0
Victoria Azarenka begins her campaign to become the first player to capture three Australian Open titles in a row since Martina Hingis from 1997 to 1999 and the first to do so at any Grand Slam since Justine Henin at the French Open from 2005 to 2007. A runner-up to Serena Williams in her 2014 debut at Brisbane, Azarenka has to like her chances against unseeded Johanna Larsson, considering she is 20-0 versus unseeded foes at the Australian Open. She also clearly is comfortable on Melbourne's hardcourts.

"I just enjoy playing here," Azarenka said at her pre-tournament press conference. "I think the fans are amazing here. It's called a players-friendly Grand Slam for a reason, that's for sure."

Swedish No.1 Larsson is looking for her first Australian Open match win, having lost her opener three straight years. She is also seeking her first Top 5 win, with a defeat of No.6 Li Na at Miami in 2011 her best win so far.

Show Court 2
[13] Sloane Stephens (USA #13) vs. Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ #82)
Head-to-head:
First meeting
Sloane Stephens proved she does her best on the biggest of stages in 2013, reaching at least the fourth round at all four majors and compiling a 15-4 record in them. The best of those outings came in Melbourne, where she shocked Serena Williams en route to the semifinals. Not only that, but she has never lost to a lower-ranked opponent at a Grand Slam, which could spell trouble for her first round opponent, Yaroslava Shvedova, this year. But Stephens has yet to play in a WTA event in 2014, as she has been dealing with a wrist injury.

Therefore, Stephens could be ripe for an upset, and on top of that, Shvedova has shown many times she is not to be overlooked at majors. Five of her 12 Top 20 wins have occurred in Grand Slam play. She also has twice reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal, doing so at Roland Garros in 2010 and 2012.

Around the grounds…
World No.5 Agnieszka Radwanska will square off with Yulia Putintseva and Dominika Cibulkova will take on former French Open champ Francesca Schiavone. Former World No.1s Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki also will play their first round matches.

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