2021 Australian Open: What to Watch on Opening Day

How to watch: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern on ESPN and 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. on ESPN2 in the United States; streaming on the ESPN+ app.

The Australian Open, one of four Grand Slam tournaments each year, provides a difficult conundrum for U.S.-based tennis fans. Some might deprive themselves of sleep to watch, but it’s more common for fans to try to sneak in a few hours of tennis in the evening and perhaps wake up a bit earlier than usual the next morning to catch the last match in Melbourne, which is 16 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States.

To help, the Australian Open tends to schedule prominent American players early in the day. Serena Williams and Venus Williams are both scheduled to play on Sunday evening Eastern time, as are young prospects Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka. And there are plenty of other high quality matches as the tournament begins Monday in Melbourne.

Here are some matches to keep an eye on.

Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are a best guess and certain to fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.

Rod Laver Arena | 7 p.m. Sunday

Naomi Osaka vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Naomi Osaka won her third Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open last year, then decided not to travel for the French Open because of the coronavirus pandemic. Osaka is among a crop of young Grand Slam champions who all have a serious claim to being the favorite at this year’s tournament. Osaka played in the Gippsland Trophy as a tuneup but withdrew in the semifinals to rest up an injury. With a tough first round against No. 39-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, she’ll hope that a couple days of rest are enough.

Pavlyuchenkova, a two-time junior champion at Grand Slam events, was ranked as highly as No. 13 at one point and has reached six major quarterfinals. But she has been inconsistent. When in good form, she can use her aggressive groundstrokes to dominate matches and dictate play, even against top players.

Rod Laver Arena | 9 p.m. Sunday

Serena Williams vs. Laura Siegemund

Serena Williams, the greatest player of the modern era, won her most recent Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open. Since giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, Williams has continued to play well but has not yet clinched a 24th major title, which would tie a singles record. A powerful baseliner whose tenacity is almost unmatched, she is still capable of challenging for titles even as a new generation of athletes who grew up watching her step into the spotlight.

On the other side of the net, Laura Siegemund won her last ATP singles title in 2016, but had a resurgent 2020 season, reaching her first major quarterfinal at the French Open. Siegemund, a doubles specialist, is good at getting into proper position. Siegemund will need to be able to move Williams around the court and disrupt her ability to dominate points if she has any chance of handing Serena her first opening round loss at a major since 2012.

Rod Laver Arena | 5 a.m. Monday

Novak Djokovic vs. Jérémy Chardy

Novak Djokovic has won the last two Australian Open titles and comes into this year’s tournament as the most dominant male player on the ATP Tour. The world No. 1 only lost five matches in 2020, and exited the U.S. Open through a disqualification after inadvertently striking a line judge with a tennis ball. Djokovic will be looking to repeat his feat of winning three Australian Opens in a row, as he did from 2011 to 2013.

Jérémy Chardy, a French doubles specialist, reached the semifinals in two recent tournaments, the Murray River Open in Melbourne and the Antalya Open in January. Without a main draw singles win in 2020, this has been an excellent start to the year for the 33-year-old. However, he hasn’t beaten Djokovic once in 13 meetings, and it’s unlikely that he can buck that in Round 1.

Margaret Court Arena | 7 a.m. Monday

Denis Shapovalov vs. Jannik Sinner

Jannik Sinner, a 19-year-old Italian, had an excellent 2020 season, reaching his first major quarterfinal at the French Open and winning his first ATP title at the Sofia Open, becoming the youngest player to win an ATP title since Kei Nishikori in 2008. Having won the Great Ocean Road Open this week, Sinner will be looking to continue his success and push for a deep run at the Australian Open.

Denis Shapovalov, the 11th seed, is coming into the Australian Open on a five match losing streak. At the U.S. Open in September, he reached his first major quarterfinal and then followed up with a run to the semifinals at the masters-level Italian Open. The hard hitting 21-year-old has struggled since then, but has shown some upsides in his two losses at the ATP Open last week to Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev.

Both youngsters are well-suited to the hardcourts of Melbourne, and this match should feature many aggressive, attack-minded points. On current form, Sinner has the slight edge, but both have high expectations of themselves, and in the five-set format of a grand slam, there can be plenty of twists and turns in a close match.

Matches for the Night Owls:

Ons Jabeur vs Andrea Petkovic — midnight

Grigor Dimitrov vs Marin Cilic — midnight

Alison Riske vs Anastasia Potapova — midnight

Kei Nishikori vs Pablo Carreño Busta — 2 a.m.

Diego Schwartzman vs Elias Ymer — 2 a.m.

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