Shapo or Sinner? Five Australian Open First-Round Matches To Watch

  • Posted: Feb 05, 2021

This year’s Australian Open draw was revealed on Friday at Melbourne Park, with eight-time champion Novak Djokovic drawn in the same half of the draw as the man he beat in last year’s final: Dominic Thiem. There will be plenty of hurdles for both men to overcome to reach that potential semi-final clash, but fans will not need to wait until the second week to witness dramatic encounters. The draw has already produced many thrilling first-round matches.

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[11] Denis Shapovalov v Jannik Sinner
In the pick of the first-round matches, 11th seed Denis Shapovalov will meet 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner for the first time. Shapovalov and Sinner are two of the most exciting young stars on the ATP Tour, but only one will make it through to the second round in Melbourne.

Shapovalov has experience on his side. The Canadian is making his fourth straight appearance at Melbourne Park, with his best result coming in 2019 when he fell in four sets to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the third round.

A lack of experience has not stopped Sinner from overcoming previous challenges and he will enter his first meeting with Shapovalov in peak form. The Italian claimed his place in the Great Ocean Road Open semi-finals with his eighth consecutive ATP Tour win on Friday. Sinner’s winning streak began in 2020, when he claimed five consecutive wins to lift his first tour-level trophy at the Sofia Open.

[18] Grigor Dimitrov v Marin Cilic
In terms of matches won, Grigor Dimitrov’s most successful Grand Slam is the Australian Open. If the 2017 semi-finalist wants to improve his 24-10 record in Melbourne this year, he will need to get past 2018 runner-up Marin Cilic.

Dimitrov, who has reached the quarter-finals or better on three occasions in Melbourne, owns two wins from six ATP Head2Head matches against Cilic. In the pair’s most recent meeting, the Bulgarian twice recovered from a set down at 2019 Roland Garros to defeat Cilic 6-7(3), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 in four hours and 23 minutes.

Cilic has also enjoyed plenty of success throughout his career at Melbourne Park. The former World No. 3 has reached the Round of 16 or better on seven occasions at this event, including the past three years. After failing to convert five match points against Jeremy Chardy in his opening match at the Murray River Open, Cilic will need to snap a three-match losing streak to overcome Dimitrov and add another chapter to his Melbourne success story.

[9] Matteo Berrettini v Kevin Anderson
With a quarter-final run at the Antalya Open and group stage singles wins for Italy against Dominic Thiem and Gael Monfils, Matteo Berrettini has started 2021 in strong form.

The World No. 10 will need his best level from the first match in Melbourne, when he meets two-time Grand Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson. Berrettini will aim to put past Australian Open visits behind him this year. The Italian has suffered two first-round losses in his three previous appearances at the event.

Anderson will also be bidding to turn a corner at the Australian Open. After three consecutive runs to the Round of 16 between 2013 and 2015, the South African has picked up just two wins from six matches at the tournament.

[4] Daniil Medvedev v Vasek Pospisil
Daniil Medvedev is a man in form. Heading into the ATP Cup semi-finals, the World No. 4 is on a 12-match winning streak, which includes eight wins against Top 10 opposition. Medvedev will enter the Australian Open as one of the tournament favourites, but could he fall at the first hurdle?

The Russian has contested three previous ATP Head2Head encounters against first-round opponent Vasek Pospisil and, on each occasion, he has been heavily tested. During his stunning 2019 run of six consecutive final appearances, Medvedev was forced to save five set points against Pospisil at the Rolex Shanghai Masters. It was the closest any player got to taking a set off the Russian that week, as he claimed his second ATP Masters 1000 crown.

When the pair met at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam last year, Pospisil gained his revenge with a 6-4, 6-3 win. The Canadian also took the opening set in their most recent encounter at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna. Pospisil has experience of causing upsets at hard-court Grand Slam championships. At last year’s US Open, the 30-year-old claimed back-to-back wins against Milos Raonic and Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the fourth round.

[21] Alex de Minaur v Tennys Sandgren

Alex de Minaur missed the 2020 Australian Open with an abdominal injury, but comes into the 2021 edition in rich form having picked up the fourth ATP Tour title of his career at the Antalya Open (d. Bublik) and posted solid performances at the ATP Cup for the host nation.

While the 21-year-old hasn’t played Tennys Sandgren before, the American’s pedigree at Melbourne Park is well known, having twice reached the Australian Open quarter-finals. De Minaur will draw upon the experience of reaching last year’s US Open quarter-finals (l. to Thiem).

In 2018, making his main draw debut at the major, Sandgren beat 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round, marking his first Top 10 match win. He overcame then-World No. 5 Dominic Thiem in his first five-set match, before falling to Hyeon Chung.

Last year, Sandgren knocked out Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini en route to the last eight, where he could not convert seven match points against Roger Federer, the six-time former champion.


[15] Pablo Carreno Busta v Kei Nishikori

At the 2019 Australian Open, Pablo Carreno Busta and Kei Nishikori contested one of the matches of the tournament. In the first edition of the event to feature a 10-point final-set tie-break, Nishikori recovered from two sets down to seal a 6-7(8), 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-6(8) victory in five hours and five minutes. Two years later, the pair will meet again at Melbourne Park.

Carreno Busta has made a strong start to his 2021 season. En route to the ATP Cup semi-finals, the Spaniard has claimed straight-sets victories against John Millman and Michail Pervolarakis. Nishikori has played just one match so far this year, and he showed glimpses of his best level in a straight-sets loss to Medvedev.

The Japanese has enjoyed far more success than his opponent at Melbourne Park, having reached the Round of 16 or better in his past seven visits. But Carreno Busta is no stranger to success at hard-court major championships. The Gijon native is a two-time singles semi-finalist and doubles runner-up at the US Open. Could this be the year he replicates those results in Melbourne?


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