Some interesting openers in store

The first Grand Slam tournament of the tennis season is upon us already. The Australian Open is wide open on the women's side with the absence of last year's two finalists, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, in addition to Jennifer Capriati. The men's draw has a simple question: Can anybody beat Roger Federer?

The first round has a number of intriguing matchups. Federer did not get the easiest opening-round opponent in Fabrice Santoro, and he easily moved ahead.

Here's a look at some of the best matches to watch in the opening round:


Lleyton Hewitt (3), Australia, vs. Arnaud Clement, France

Clement is down to 106 in the rankings, and is 1-4 in his last five Grand Slam matches. Still, Hewitt has had several competitive matches in going 5-0 lifetime vs. the Frenchman. They went three sets in Auckland recently. Can Clement turn back the clock and make this a test?

Guillermo Coria (6), Argentina, vs. Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic

The Czech Republic up-and-comer made the round of 16 in the U. S. Open and could provide a challenge here. Coria was upset in Auckland.

Sebastien Grosjean (14), France, vs. Michael Llodra, France

This battle of Frenchmen is interesting. Llodra is an excellent doubles player who can hold his own in singles. He also won their lone prior singles showdown, back in Los Angeles in 2002.

Tommy Haas (16), Germany vs. Xavier Malisse, Belgium

Malisse beat Haas at Wimbledon last year, though the German won three of their four showdowns last season. Malisse is now down to 47 in the world rankings, but he figures to keep this competitive.

Vince Spadea (19), United States, vs. Radek Stepanek, Czech Republic

Stepanek is ranked 34th in the world (just a few spots away from being ranked). He won his first-round match at the Australian Open the past two years. These two split two meetings last year; Spadea prevailed 7-6 in the final set of the match he won.

Juan Ignacio Chela (25), Argentina, vs. Wayne Arthurs, Australia

You know the crowd will be behind the hard-serving Aussie.

Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden, vs. Greg Rusedski, Great Britain

Two veterans go at it, probably for the right to meet Andy Roddick in round two.


Lindsay Davenport (1), United States, vs. Conchita Martinez, Spain
Last year, Martinez was seeded 13th in this event and lost in the first round. This year, she comes in ranked 43 in the world. At age 32, her better days are past her. She has made the round of 16 or better eight times at this event, but she lost in the opening round each of the past two years. Is Davenport 100 percent? We'll find out. She could have had an easier draw as Martinez will fight hard.

Venus Williams (8), United States, vs. Eleni Daniilidou, Greece

Venus would have preferred an easier foe. Her Greek opponent is ranked 42 in the world and has made the third round or better three straight years at the Aussie Open. Daniilidou was seeded 19th here a year ago and has dropped a bit. Still, this is not a layup.

Alicia Molik (10), Australia, vs. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Spain

There is some pressure with higher expectations for Molik. Medina Garrigues is ranked 38th in the world, made the third round last year (she lost to Mauresmo).

Francesca Schiavone (14), Italy, vs. Marta Marrero, Spain

Marrero is ranked 48th in the world and could provide a scare.

Amy Frazier (21), United States, vs. Marissa Irvin, United States

This is the third straight Grand Slam tournament where Irvin has drawn a seed in the opening round (No. 2 Mauresmo at U.S. Open; No. 32 Shaughnessy at Wimbledon).

Jelena Jankovic (23), Serbia and Montenegro, vs. Nicole Pratt, Australia

The Australian is an underdog at age 31, ranked 53rd in the world. She has made the third round or better here three straight years, losing in the third set to Vera Zvonareva in her match last year.

Gisela Dulko (29), Argentina, vs. Kristina Brandi, Puerto Rico

Brandi is 51st in the world and she lost in three sets to Amy Frazier last year. Dulko is happy she doesn't see Martina Navratilova on the draw sheet after facing the legend at the French and Wimbledon last year.

Marion Bartoli, France, vs. Claudine Schaul, Luxembourg

Strange choice, but we will see. Bartoli is ranked 40th, Schaul 61st. Schaul lost to Molik in three sets last year.

Howie Schwab is a coordinating producer for ESPN.