MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Day Two at the Australian Open features a two-time former champion with a renewed spring in her step, a hard-luck former finalist (times four) and a national hero who could be making his final appearance as a player in his native Australia.
Victoria Azarenka, who won the Brisbane International title to open the year, is in her best form since capturing back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013. She plays Alison Van Uytvanck in the last match on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday evening.
Second-seeded Andy Murray, who has lost all four finals he’s contested, takes on Alexander Zverev in the second match at Margaret Court Arena. Rafael Nadal has a tough first-round match against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the last afternoon match at Rod Laver.
Lleyton Hewitt, a two-time major champion who will retire after this tournament, opens the night program on the center court. The closest he came to winning his national championship was in 2005, when he lost to Marat Safin in the final.
Hewitt, who has already been named as Australia’s Davis Cup captain, takes on countryman and fellow wild-card entry James Duckworth.
Here are some things to watch on Tuesday:
LOOKING FOR THREE: Azarenka appeared to be rarity among the title contenders in the first weeks of the season, staying healthy while Serena Williams had to pull out of the Hopman Cup with left knee inflammation, followed by the Brisbane International withdrawals of No. 2 Simona Halep, No. 3 Garbine Muguruza and No. 5 Maria Sharapova. “I feel good. Feeling excited,” the former No. 1-ranked Azarenka said. She’s never played Van Uytvanck, and when asked if she knew much about her opponent, she said: “Not very much. I think I saw a little bit of her play last year. But I will definitely have a little bit more information closer to the match.”
TOUGH-LUCK MURRAY: It’s just as well Murray won the 2012 U.S. Open, and Wimbledon the following year, ending seven-decade streaks of no British man winning a the major title. He helped then helped Britain win the Davis Cup last year, its first team title in 79 years. At Melbourne Park, he’s not had as much luck — he’s zero for 4 in the final. He begins his quest for final No. 5 on Tuesday against Zverev, whom he beat just two weeks ago at the Hopman Cup in Perth in the first meeting between the pair. But Murray and the 1.98-meter (6-6) Zverev have practiced together in the past. “It will be a tough match,” Murray said. “He serves well. For a big guy, moves pretty well … obviously improving all the time.”
RAFA’S OPENING CHALLENGE: Nadal last played fellow lefthander Verdasco in the Australian Open semifinals in 2009, when he prevailed in five sets in 5 hours, 14 minutes, then went on to win the title two days later. “Not a lucky first round, I think, for me. For him either,” Nadal says. “Will be a tough match.” Asked to reflect on the 2009 result, Nadal said: “Obvious that that match gave me the chance to win the only Australian Open that I won. That was an unforgettable memory for me.” Nadal holds a big advantage in head-to-head matches, having won 14 of 16 meetings between the pair.
HEWITT’S SWANSONG? Hewitt has never played countryman Duckworth on the ATP Tour, but could soon have him on his Davis Cup team, possibly as soon as March against the United States in the first World Group round in Melbourne. In the meantime, he’s a bit unsure how he feels about the possibility that Tuesday night could be his last as a player before a large crowd. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know how it feels … a tad strange, but I’m trying to soak it up as much as possible,” Hewitt said. “I guess it’s different in the fact that if you do go out then, yes, it is the end. But you got to try to block that out as much as possible. You could go through all the same emotions again two days later, as well.” If Hewitt gets past Duckworth, he could face No. 8-seeded David Ferrer in the second round.