While the men’s draw featured several suspenseful five-setters, Day 1 did not ruin the manicures of the leading women or their supporters.  That trend could shift on Day 2 when the most famous working mom in tennis opens her Melbourne campaign against the 2009 finalist and former #1.  Thoroughly embarrassed by another Russian here a year ago, Clijsters hopes to avoid a relapse when she faces Safina, with whom she has split their two meetings during her comeback (both in Cincinnati).  Almost invincible against non-Russians, the three-time US Open champion has posted an indifferent 5-5 record since the start of 2010 when she plays someone from Safina’s nation.  As the first set of the Sydney final demonstrated, the Belgian’s game still can evaporate at unexpected moments and drift hopelessly beyond her control.  On the other hand, Safina’s game may have fractured beyond repair after a career-threatening back injury that descended late in 2009, exacerbating the mental frailty that she displayed as #1.  After winning a set from Wickmayer in Auckland, the Russian secured just one game from Bartoli in Hobart, but the scoreline did not reflect the multiple-deuce games that littered their encounter.  The night-session atmosphere probably favors the more confident Clijsters, thrusting Safina into an uncomfortably intense setting where she collapsed against Serena in the 2009 final.  For Marat’s sister, though, a loss would drop her outside the top 100 and into the murky realm of wildcards or perhaps qualifying draws, so she may approach this clash with additional motivation.  Yet she has won two or fewer games in half of the sets that she has played against Clijsters, including two bagels and four breadsticks, so an ugly rout could develop if Kim seizes control before Safina settles into the match.

Elsewhere on Day 2:

Nalbandian vs. Hewitt:  Curiously, this vintage encounter opposes the victor and the vanquished from the last Wimbledon final before Federer’s lease on the All England Club began.  A finalist last week in Auckland, the Argentine scored encouraging victories over Isner and Almagro.  Despite advancing age and questionable fitness, Nalbandian continues to lurk among the dark horses at every prominent event when healthy, for his uncanny timing and immaculate ball-striking have flustered even Federer and Nadal on repeated occasions.  Probably less naturally gifted than his adversary, Hewitt has fully capitalized upon his potential with a gritty work ethic antithetical to the underachieving Argentine, whose motivation has seemed tepid and sporadic at best.  The two-time major champion likely realizes that few Australian Opens remain in the twilight of his tennis odyssey, as do his fervent supporters.  Etching indelible memories onto their minds, the Australian once collaborated with Baghdatis in an early-round epic that resulted in the latest finish ever witnessed in Melbourne.  Unless Nalbandian sweeps him aside efficiently, Hewitt’s superior fitness (both physically and mentally) likely will produce another marathon and perhaps another rousing victory.

Jankovic vs. Kudryavtseva:  Highly fallible during the second half of 2010, the Serb looks to recapture the form that brought her the Indian Wells title last spring.  Unleashing a temper as flaming as her hair, Kudryavtseva showcased her fearsome offense in a Wimbledon upset over Sharapova in 2008 and a near-upset there over Venus a year earlier.  The Russian’s forehand penetrates the court with ease, menacing the type of inconsistent counterpuncher that Jankovic can become when low in confidence.  But can Kudryavsteva rein in her unruly weapons at crucial moments and maintain her level throughout two or maybe three sets?  In that regard, the Serb comfortably trumps her volatile adversary.

Ana Ivanovic - Adizero Speed Week In Melbourne

Makarova vs. Ivanovic:  For the second consecutive major, Ana opens against the Russian lefty who stunned the Eastbourne draw as a qualifier last year.  Frequently flashing her signature smile during the Hopman Cup and yesterday’s Rally for Relief, Ivanovic will seek to carry her relaxed attitude into a relatively gentle draw that she can exploit.  Dueling Azarenka for more than three hours  in Sydney, however, Makarova has an imposing serve and a striking knack for saving break points, even more perceptible than with the typical lefty.  Like Kudryavtseva above, her streakiness often prevents her from delivering her best tennis for more than a few games at a time.  Much more consistent since last summer, the Serb may experience a few nerves at the tournament where she once reached the final, while a strained abdominal muscle stirs slight concern.  Guided by the insightful Antonio van Grichen , Ivanovic has gained an air of quiet confidence after conquering her self-created demons, and the crowd should support her vociferously from the first ball onwards.

Date-Krumm vs. Radwanska:  Hobbled by injury last fall, the fabulously versatile Pole has not won a match since Tokyo and has not played since Beijing.  In fact, her entry in the Australian Open surprised most observers and causes us to wonder whether she has leapt to a premature decision that she will regret.  Across the net, the oldest player in the WTA has no regrets at all about a comeback that has ambushed two former #1s and a host of other players half her age.  Slapping groundstrokes at implausible angles with oddly truncated swings, Date-Krumm hopes to jerk Radwanska from side to side like a windshield wiper.  Comfortable anywhere on the court, the Pole aims to unsettle and exhaust the crafty veteran by exposing her to a variety of speeds and spins.  Sophisticated tennis fans will relish the subtle talents of both players as they delicately uncover each other’s flaws.

Vandeweghe vs. Cornet:  Once considered the future of women’s tennis in her nation, the Frenchwoman confronts a hard-serving foe often considered the future of American women’s tennis.  At the Australian Open occurred the collapse against Safina that precipitated Cornet’s seemingly irreversible spiral.  After three qualifying matches, Vandeweghe may enter the main draw somewhat weary, but her brash self-belief should help bring her past the easily wilting phenom of the past.

Berankis vs. Matosevic:  During the Australian Open wildcard playoff, we warmed to the mercurial Aussie as he launched a spirited comeback against Luczak to earn a berth in his home major.  Yet he will not find his task comfortable against the top-ranked Lithuanian in the ATP, who punches well above his diminutive stature.  Likely to reach the top 20 eventually, the boyish Berankis has reached the top 100 after gorging himself upon challengers while winning a match apiece at each of the last two majors.  Can he extend that streak?

Petrova vs. Pervak:  Last year’s quarterfinalist exited both Brisbane and Sydney in the opening round, while Pervak clawed her way through qualifying into the main draw at the former event.  There, she overwhelmed former top-5 star Chakvetadze before winning a set from ultimate champion Kvitova, who had ousted Petrova much more routinely a round earlier.  We watched the petite lefty against Sharapova at Roland Garros last year, where she convinced us that she possesses both the game and the mentality to threaten a fading, fragile veteran.

Cirstea vs. Lucic:  Not unlike Cornet, the exotic-looking Romanian formerly seemed destined to become the standard-bearer of her nation’s tennis hopes.  Hampered by injuries over the past two years, Cirstea merely seeks to reassert her relevance against yet another of the WTA’s comeback artists.  Lucic has enjoyed a far less successful return than her fellow veterans but did take a set from Jankovic at last year’s US Open with her flat, heavy groundstrokes; we look forward to watching her on grass.

***

We return tomorrow with the Day 3 preview!  As before, feel free to comment if you would like to share any recommendations for matches to highlight.

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