Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic both face a tough start to their attempts for record-breaking titles at the Australian Open on Tuesday, where temperatures are forecast to soar on day two. Rafael Nadal, coming back from injury, will also have a tricky opener in Melbourne.
Williams, chasing an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam trophy, won’t have it easy against Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic as she feels her way back after injury.
And Djokovic, looking for an unprecedented seventh Australian Open crown, also has his work cut out against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, who shocked Rafael Nadal in round one last year.
Third seed Milos Raonic, threatening for his first Grand Slam title, and 14-time major-winner Nadal, at the other end of his career, also get their campaigns underway.
A significant factor could be the weather, as Williams and Nadal are both playing during the afternoon when temperatures are set to head towards 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
The season’s first Grand Slam, in the height of the Australian summer, is notorious for its gruelling conditions and players will be braced for a physical challenge.
“I don’t know still a player that enjoys playing in 40 plus or 35 plus (degrees). It’s same for everybody. It’s not easy,” Djokovic said.
“At the end of the day, that’s what you expect. You come to Australia during the summertime, and the conditions can get quite challenging and extreme.”
Senior players struggled on day one with top-ranked Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka and 17-time major-winner Roger Federer all tested.
Bencic is a potential banana skin for Williams, who has played only two matches since September after she halted last season early to recover from injury.
Williams has a 1-1 head-to-head record against the 19-year-old Swiss. But she will also be out to make a statement at a tournament she has won six times.
“I didn’t come here to lose in the first round, or the second round, or at all,” warned the 35-year-old.
Verdasco hasn’t beaten Djokovic for nearly seven years, but he did hold seven match points against the Serb in a thrilling semi-final this month in Doha.
Raonic, a semi-finalist last year and the Wimbledon runner-up, should have an easier task against Germany’s Dustin Brown, who has never won an Australian Open match.
Another German, Florian Mayer, stands in Nadal’s way as the fading Spanish great looks to avoid a repeat of his horror show against Verdasco last year.
Dominika Cibulkova, the reigning WTA Finals champion, plays Denisa Allertova and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki faces Australian wildcard Arina Rodionova.