Our selection of the first-round matches at Melbourne Park.
Ernests Gulbis vs Michael Llodra:
When should we start giving up on Gulbis at the slams? That’s if we haven’t already. The trustafarian of the men’s tour, the son of a Latvian oligarch is plainly a talent, and he brings colour to the tennis scene (asked once whether the rumours were true that he travelled to tournaments in his dad’s private jet, he replied, “Yes, and I have a helicopter, a submarine and a spaceship”). At the last eight grand slams he has played, Gulbis has won just one match, which came at last season’s US Open when he defeated Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny only to then lose in the next round to Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller. There are few more intriguing player-coach partnerships than Gulbis and Guillermo Canas, an Argentine who in his playing days was suspended after failing a dope test. Many will be hoping that Gulbis, who is 23 years old, will make an impact at Melbourne Park, starting with his opening match against Frenchman Llodra, another of the eccentrics in the draw at the opening slam of the year.
Alex Bogomolov Junior vs Daniel Gimeno-Traver:
During the Cold War days, much would have been made in Moscow of Bogomolov’s ‘defection’ over the Iron Curtain. Even now, Bogomolov’s decision to give up his American passport for a Russian one has not passed without comment. He will be playing his first grand slam as a Russian. He made the change because of the Davis Cup, realising that he had little chance of ever playing for the Stars and Stripes. He recently paid back 75,000 US dollars to the United States Tennis Association. “Everyone’s cool with me,” Bogomolov has said, a view that would have been tested more thoroughly had he drawn an American in the first round, rather than a Spaniard.
Bernard Tomic vs Fernando Verdasco:
For the first time, ‘Little Bernie’ will be playing at the Australian Open as of right, as his ranking is high enough to have gained direct acceptance into the draw. Last year, more than 80 per cent of those who voted on the Melbourne Age’s website said that he did not deserve a wild card as had withdrawn from a wild card play-off, saying he was unwell, and was then spotted practising that day on the Gold Coast. This year, he is in the draw because he deserves to be. Not an easy draw, through, against a former semi-finalist.
Andy Murray vs Ryan Harrison:
As John McEnroe put it, “you want to get Andy early”, the theory being that he is at the most vulnerable in the early rounds. This is a long way from being an easy draw for Murray, the beaten finalist on the Rod Laver Arena for the last two years, as the American teenager is gifted, and improving quickly.