MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — The opening day of the Australian Open should provide quick answers to injury questions which developed over the past few weeks with two of the biggest stars in the women's game.
Will six-time winner and defending champion Serena Williams be affected by inflammation in her left knee that forced her out of the Hopman Cup in Perth? And will Maria Sharapova, who lost to Williams in last year's final, get through her first-round match without the recurrence of left forearm soreness that made her withdraw from the Brisbane International, where she was defending champion?
Both players said they've recovered from their respective ailments and are ready to go, Williams as the second match on the main Rod Laver Arena, Sharapova to open the night program at Margaret Court Arena.
Adding to a blockbuster first day are matches involving five-time and defending champion Novak Djokovic and 17-time Grand Slam winner and four-time Australian winner Roger Federer.
Here are some things to watch on Monday:
DON'T TELL ME, PLEASE: Seeded players can't meet in the first round in a tournament, but Williams got the next-toughest assignment: the player with the highest ranking and not seeded. She's Camila Giorgi of Italy and No. 36 in the rankings. The two have met just twice before — on clay — and Williams won in straight sets both times. Asked about Giorgi, Williams professed to not know who she was playing: "I don't really ever look at the draw, so I would appreciate it if you didn't mention it. Thank you." That means she likely also doesn't know that she could face former No. 1 and close friend Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round and No. 5 Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Sharapova, who plays No. 56 Nao Hibino of Japan — they've never played each other — is just the opposite — "ultimately you know all the players that are competing here. It's no secret who you're going to be playing."
THE MAJOR MEN: The form guide would suggest Djokovic and Federer should easily win their first-round matches. Djokovic plays Chung Hyeong, a 19-year-old from South Korea ranked 51st who has never played the Serbian. Federer takes on Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, ranked No. 117, and they've also never met. Djokovic has won four of the last five Australian titles and is a perfect 5-0 in finals at Melbourne Park. He also won 27 of his 28 Grand Slam matches last year, losing only to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final while winning the other three majors. "2015 was the best season and best year of my life undoubtedly," Djokovic said Sunday. "I'll try to obviously carry that confidence and high level of performance that I've had ... into the new season."
ACTIVE 'SLAM CHAMPIONS: The Australian Open this year features 15 active Grand Slam champions — seven men and eight women — and the bulk of the majors are held by the top three players on each side. Federer's leading 17 is three ahead of Rafael Nadal, while Djokovic has 10. Lleyton Hewitt, who will retire after this tournament, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have two majors each, rounded out by Marin Cilic (2014 U.S. Open) with one for a total of 48 by the men. Nadal, Wawrinka, Murray and Hewitt play their opening matches Tuesday. The Williams sisters lead the women — Serena with 21 and Venus with seven — followed by Sharapova's five, two each by Victoria Azarenka (both at the Australian Open), Svetlana Kuznetsova and Petra Kvitova and one each by Ana Ivanovic and Samantha Stosur. Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, has the honor Monday of playing the first tournament match on Rod Laver Arena, against Luksika Kumkhum, a 22-year-old qualifier from Thailand.
RUNNERS-UP REMATCH: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France plays Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in the last night match on Margaret Court Arena on Monday, and both players have bittersweet memories of past Australian Open glory. Both players have never won a major and have only made one Grand Slam final — at Melbourne Park. Tsonga lost in four sets to Djokovic in 2008, Baghdatis was beaten by Federer in the 2006 championship match. Both players captivated their respective tournaments — Baghdatis with his vocal crowd support from Melbourne's large Greek community, and Tsonga with his on-court spinning and sparring routines. It could be a knockout punch for Tsonga — he's won all five matches the pair have played in main-draw tournaments.