Storylines and matches to watch on Day 1 of the Australian Open:
• Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova open play: No. 2 Sharapova faces fellow Russian Olga Puchkova at Rod Laver Arena, while No. 1 Djokovic has a slightly trickier task against French veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu. This will be Sharapova’s first match of 2013 after withdrawing from a warm-up tournament because of what she described as a collarbone injury. She’s been practicing hard at Melbourne Park for two weeks, so she should come out firing. Watch for some early rust while she finds her range before she runs away with this one. Puchkova, ranked No. 107, hasn’t won a completed main-draw match since the U.S. Open. Djokovic, whose only warm-up was the Hopman Cup, is 4-1 against Mathieu — the only loss coming in Paris in 2006.
• Nine Americans in action: How many Americans will be left standing after Day 1? No. 25 Venus Williams (first match, Hisense Arena) and No. 20 Sam Querrey (fourth match, Court 6) lead nine U.S. players. They should cruise, but the rest of the slate has dicier propositions. Steve Johnson (first match, Court 3) and Michael Russell (second match, Court 2) face No. 10 Nicolas Almagro and No. 5 Tomas Berdych, respectively. Coco Vandeweghe (first match, Court 8) plays erratic No. 27 Sorana Cirstea. Cirstea knocked Sam Stosur out of Melbourne last year, but she hasn’t had a good start to the season.
Two others to watch: Ryan Harrison looks to avenge his Olympic loss to Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo (second match, Court 8). Brian Baker’s first career Australian Open match is against Alex Bogomolov Jr. (third match, Court 20).
• No rest for the weary: Serena Wiliams aside, Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na are probably the hottest women coming into Melbourne. Radwanska ended Li’s eight-match winning streak in Sydney and extended her own run to nine by capturing the title. She did it with a 6-0, 6-0 thumping of Dominika Cibulkova in the final. Radwanska and Li are up early on Margaret Court Arena on Day 1.
Matches to watch
• No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic vs. Lleyton Hewitt (first night match, Rod Laver Arena): Lleyton Hewitt. Janko Tipsarevic. Night Match. Rod Laver Arena. That’s really the only pitch you need to roll out of bed at 3 a.m. ET to catch what could be Hewitt’s last Australian Open match. Before you roll your eyes at the prospect of the Aussie, now 31 and ranked No. 84, knocking out the ninth seed, think about this: Hewitt beat Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro last week at the Kooyong exhibition. He loves playing at home, and he’ll have an arena full of Aussies urging him on.
• No. 32 Julien Benneteau vs. Grigor Dimitrov (first match, Court 13): Dimitrov spent the last two weeks making headlines on the court (where he beat Milos Raonic on the way to his first ATP final, in Brisbane) and off the court (where he’s reportedly Sharapova’s new beau). Is Dimitrov for real? The former Wimbledon junior champion and long-touted future talent gets his first test against Benneteau, who started the season well with a run to the Sydney semifinals. Something tells me this one is going the full five.
• No. 9 Samantha Stosur vs. Chang Kai-Chen (second match, Rod Laver Arena): The expectations for Stosur in Australia are simple: just win one match. One. Match. The Aussie No. 1 has a complete mental block at home. No match is a given. She’s 1-5 Down Under the last two years. In their only match, Chang won 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (3) a few months ago in the Osaka semifinals.
• No. 22 Fernando Verdasco vs. David Goffin (second match, Hisense Arena): Goffin, the baby-faced Belgian assassin, made the fourth round of the French Open last year as a qualifier, losing in four sets to idol Roger Federer. Meanwhile, Verdasco is on a prolonged downswing, his only win this year coming at the Hopman Cup over a 16-year-old Aussie junior.
• Madison Keys vs. Casey Dellacqua (fourth match, Margaret Court Arena): Keys, 17, is the real deal. Many American eyes are on Keys after she made her first WTA quarterfinal in her eighth main draw appearance last week in Sydney. Dellacqua withdrew from the Hopman Cup with a foot injury, so Keys is the favorite. Tune in to see why everyone is buying Keys’ stock.
• Upset specials: Anabel Medina Garrigues vs. No. 11 Marion Bartoli; Goffin vs. Verdasco.
• When and how to watch: Play begins at 11 a.m. Melbourne time on Monday, 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. ESPN2 begins its coverage at 6:30 p.m. ET.