The draws for the Australian Open were released on Thursday afternoon and the opening round has thrown up some popcorn-worthy matches for fans around the globe.
The 2022 Australian Open draw has been one of the most anticipated in recent memory due to the circumstances surrounding men's world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The hour and 15-minute delay added another layer of theatre to the whole process, it must be said.
For now, the defending men’s champion will grace Rod Laver Arena on the opening day where he will face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic.
On an Australian front, world No. 1 Ash Barty has been drawn to face a qualifier while former world No. 13 Nick Kyrgios has been named in the draw despite his recent positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
Without further adieu, here are five must-see matches for both draws to enjoy in the opening two days of competition.
(8) Paula Badosa (ESP) v Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)
It’s not very often you play the same player twice in a row, but that’s the case for Australian Ajla Tomljanovic who is due to face Spanish world No. 9 Paula Badosa in the first round.
The pair clashed for the first time on Wednesday at the Sydney Classic with Badosa claiming a 6-3, 6-4 win over the world No. 45. Luckily, Tomljanovic doesn’t have to wait long for the sequel and will be determined to turn the tables on the Spaniard.
The Aussie found some consistency in 2021 and jumped back into the top 50 by years end. Her best result came at Wimbledon where she made the quarterfinals, losing to eventual winner Barty.
Badosa will be hoping to make a deep run in the tournament after enjoying a breakout 2021 that saw her enter the top 10 for the first time. The Spaniard made headlines in 2021 for her comments on Australia’s hotel quarantine before making an early exit in the first round.
There’ll be plenty of feeling in this one given their recent encounter. Will Tomljanovic learn from her loss and flip the switch? Or will Badosa pick up where she left off and make it two from two?
(17) Emma Raducanu (GBR) v Sloane Stephens (USA)
This match pits two US Open champions against one another in a duel not usually seen till the later rounds.
19-year-old Emma Raducanu shocked the world in 2021 when she made the most improbable run from qualifying to the US Open championship without dropping a single set.
Stephens also made an unlikely run to the title in 2017 but has slumped in recent years to the point where she is ranked outside of the top 50 now. Prior to this, Stephens was ranked as high as No. 3 in the world.
Stephens 2021 form can be forgotten as she dealt with a raft of personal issues that impacted her game. Stephens has a ton of experience and knows how to reach the pointy end of a Grand Slam.
Raducanu fell back to earth at a rapid pace following her whirlwind two-week stint at Flushing Meadows. The 19-year-old has struggled to meet expectations since the US Open with her best performance being a quarter-final appearance at the Transylvania Open in October 2021.
Despite both players recent form woes, this match sees two US Open champions go head to head, desperately trying to get their year off to a good start. Expect a tight battle to ensue.
(11) Sofia Kenin (USA) v Madison Keys (USA)
This all-American encounter is one that jumps out when glossing over the draw.
Madison Keys and Sofia Kenin have met three times at tour-level, with Keys holding a 2-1 H2H lead over her compatriot. All three of their encounters came in 2019, with Kenin winning the first and Keys the remaining two.
Their last match came at the 2019 US Open, with Keys winning 6-3, 7-5 on her way to a fourth-round appearance.
Much like fellow American Stephens, Keys is a dangerous unseeded opponent who can beat anyone on her day. Now ranked at No. 87 in the world, Keys is a former US Open finalist with a career-high ranking of 7. Her most recent hit came at the Melbourne Summer Set where she made a second-round exit.
23-year-old Kenin is one of the USA’s brightest stars and heads into the Australian Open as the 11th seed. Kenin is no stranger to success in Melbourne and knows what it takes to win here after claiming the championship in 2020. Recently, she made a quarterfinal run at the Adelaide International 1 before a match to forget in the opening round of the Sydney Classic.
It’s a less than ideal matchup for Kenin but she certainly has the ability to get the job done. As for Keys, it’s a great opportunity to claim a big scalp early in the season and it’s someone she knows how to beat.
Popcorn at the ready.
(20) Petra Kvitova (CZE) v Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
This match sees two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova take on world No. 38 Sorana Cirstea.
Cirstea poses a threat as an opponent ranked just outside of a seeding and is capable of beating anyone on the day. Her best run at the Australian Open came in 2017 where she made the fourth round.
Kvitova on the other hand is an out and out champion of the tour and a multiple Grand Slam winner. She knows what it takes to do well in Melbourne having made the final in 2019 as well as several trips to the quarters.
The pair are veterans on the tour and have met each other eight times over their careers, with Kvitova holding a 5-3 H2H lead over the Romanian. However, Cirstea won their most recent battle 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 in the second round of the 2021 Australian Open.
The match is sure to be a high-quality affair and a treat of a match for an opening-round fixture.
(2) Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) V (WC) Storm Sanders (AUS)
The No. 2 in the world coming up against a wild card entry ranked outside the top 100 wouldn’t usually be at the top of the must-see list, but this clash is different.
23-year-old Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka is one of the brightest talents on the tour and looks destined for Grand Slam glory in the not too distant future. She made two Grand Slam semifinal appearances in 2021 and saw her ranking jump from No. 10 at the end of 2020 to No. 2 by August 2021.
2022 looks to be Sabalenka’s year but it hasn’t gotten off to the start she would've hoped for. The Belarusian has played two matches for the year and been soundly beaten in both by much lesser opponents.
The reasoning? She simply can’t get the ball into play on her serve at the moment. In her first match of the season, she served 18 double faults and in her second match she served 21 double faults - both resulting in losses to players ranked 100 and 93 respectively. The World No. 2 had to resort to serving underarm to get the ball into the court.
Sabalenka’s woes have opened the door for Aussie Storm Sanders to cause a huge upset and shake up the draw. Sanders is a big improver on the tour and she likes playing in Australia. An upset win over Sabalenka could propel her to greater heights in 2022 if she can pull it off.
The pair have met once before, with Sabalenka claiming a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Sanders in the semifinals in Perth back in 2016.
All eyes will be on this match to see if the world No. 2 can shake off her serving woes and fulfil her enormous potential. Strap yourselves in.
(32) Alex de Minaur (AUS) v Lorenzo Musetti (ITA)
Aussie No. 1 Alex de Minaur has been set a challenging task in the form of rising star and world No. 60 Lorenzo Musetti.
The pair have never met on tour but are bound to be battling each other over the next decade as two of the games brightest talents.
The Australian has started 2022 on the right note with big wins over Matteo Berrettini and Ugo Humbert at the ATP Cup in Sydney. Musetti’s only hit for the year was an opening-round loss to Taro Daniel at the Adelaide International 1.
Musetti has shown he can match it with the best and is capable of beating top 10 players on his day. In 2021, the Italian went two sets up on Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros before being reigned in and defeated Diego Schwartzman, Frances Tiafoe and Grigor Dimitrov on his way to a semifinal appearance in Acapulco.
The Italian has the game to cause an upset but will it be enough for him to dislodge the Australian at his home slam?
This one is sure to be entertaining.
(12) Cameron Norrie (GBR) v Sebastian Korda (USA)
The Brit will have found himself feeling a little unlucky when he discovered his opponent for the opening round would be young gun, Sebastian Korda. The American too would have hoped for an easier first-round match given he’s ranked at No. 40 in the world.
The pair’s only meeting came in the semifinals of the Delray Beach Open in 2021, with Korda coming out on top 6-3, 7-5. At the time, Korda was ranked 119 in the world and Norrie at 74 in the world.
Both players had a fantastic 2021 season after this meeting and by years end, Norrie found himself ranked No. 12 while Korda broke into the top 40.
Korda is tipped to be a future Grand Slam winner and has a powerful game that can upset anyone. Norrie is one of the biggest improvers on the tour and has the patience to wear his opponents down from the back of the court.
This match is the pick of the round.
(23) Reilly Opelka (USA) v Kevin Anderson (RSA)
This match is going to be a fun one to watch for obvious reasons.
Opelka and Anderson are two of the biggest servers on the tour so expect to see a very high ace count for the match.
The pair have only met once on the tour, with a then 18-year-old Opelka defeating the South African 6-7(5), 6-3 7-5 in the round of 16 in Atlanta back in 2016.
Since that meeting, Anderson went on to make two Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open while Opelka has slowly developed his game to the point where he sits in the top 30 players in the world.
Anderson has had to deal with injuries in recent times impacting his ranking which now sits at No. 101.
It’s a dangerous opponent for Opelka to cop in the first round but if his recent form is anything to go by, the American should prevail comfortably.
(21) Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO) v Andy Murray (GBR)
This fixture sees a rematch between Nikoloz Basilashvili and former world No. 1 Andy Murray after their meeting in Sydney on Wednesday.
Murray came out on top in that clash, defeating the Georgian 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 6-3 in an epic three-hour encounter at the Sydney Classic. It was the pair’s second meeting on the tour, with Murray besting Basilashvili in their first meeting at Wimbledon in 2021.
Basilashvili will be desperate to get another crack at the Scotsman where he’ll hope to snap a five-match losing streak that dates back to October 2021 in Vienna.
Murray has started the year off well with a trip to the semis in Sydney and will fancy his chances of advancing against the out of sorts Georgian.
Given their recent three-hour epic, this one is sure to be box office viewing. Another bowl of popcorn, please.
(22) John Isner (USA) v Maxime Cressy (USA)
Much like Opelka v Anderson, this all-American encounter will sit well with the serving enthusiasts.
Isner is one of, if not the greatest server of all time and has the ability to put the ball wherever he wants. The now 36-year-old hasn’t dropped off the pace at all and remains a hard player for opponents to crack, especially when serving.
24-year-old Cressy on the other hand has only recently announced himself as a player to watch on the tour after going through qualifying to make the final of the Melbourne Summer Set.
Cressy’s serve and volley game is a nod to the past and a tricky tactic for modern players to deal with.
It will be the first meeting between one of America’s rising talents and one of its proven stars - both with similar game styles.
This match is destined to be resolved through tiebreakers and we’re all in for that.
This one will be a classic.