Image: Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reaches for a shot during a practice session at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 17, 2016. The Australian Open tennis tournament starts January 18. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will be hoping to get the Australian Open off to a sizzling start when they play back-to-back on Rod Laver Arena on Monday.
The weather also looks set to do its part in keeping temperatures high from the off at Melbourne Park with peaks of 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) forecast for the opening day of the year’s first grand slam.
The two dominant players of last year, Djokovic and Williams are no strangers to the heat of the Australian summer, of course, but sweltering conditions might help expose any flaws in their early season form or fitness.
That looks less likely to be the case with Djokovic, who opens his campaign to match Roy Emerson’s record tally of six men’s singles titles against South Korea’s Chung Hyeon.
Coming off a year in which he won 11 tournaments and three of the four majors, the 28-year-old Serbian ironman should safely negotiate his opening match whatever the weather.
The condition of Williams, who faces unpredictable Italian Camila Giorgi in her opener in the second match on Rod Laver, is more open to question.
The American has barely swung a racket since the semi-final defeat to Italy’s Roberta Vinci at last September’s U.S. Open denied her a shot at the single season grand slam.
The 21-times grand slam champion said on Saturday the knee inflammation that has bothered her recently was no longer a problem and she was “at 130 percent” for her first round tie.
Whether or not her comments can be taken at face value, writing off Williams for whatever reason is a dangerous business and it would be no surprise at all if she swatted Giorgi aside as she embarks on her bid for a seventh singles title.
Her fellow 34-year-old Roger Federer, 17-times a grand slam winner, takes centre stage in the evening session on Rod Laver Arena as he embarks on his quest for a fifth Melbourne Park crown against Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Another former champion, women’s fifth seed Maria Sharapova, takes on Japan’s Nao Hibino in the primetime match on Margaret Court Arena but local eyes might be more on Hisense Arena where Australian young gun Nick Kyrgios plays Pablo Carreno Busta.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)
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