Few punters give him a chance, but Bernard Tomic believes he can turn the Australian Open on its head and send world No.1 Rafael Nadal packing in the first round.
Tomic knows he will need to be at the very top of his game – unlike in Saturday night’s heavy loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the final in Sydney – to have any hope of springing a Melbourne Park boilover.
The 21-year-old admitted he thought “Happy New Year” when he first drew Nadal last Friday, but he’s since warmed to the idea of challenging the 13-times grand slam champion on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
“Everything is possible,” Tomic said when asked if he gave himself a shot of winning Tuesday’s marquee match-up.
“I’m playing good. I’m pretty confident. I’ve just got to play the tennis I played early throughout Sydney.
“I have to be on my game, really embrace the moment, have fun, go for my shots.
“Obviously if I can do that, I’m going to give myself a chance.”
He can take a cue from local favourite Casey Dellacqua who powered her way to an impressive 6-2 6-2 victory over former world No.2 Vera Zvonareva from Russia in the opening round of the Australian Open this morning.
The left-handed Dellacqua dominated the match against the 2010 Wimbledon and US Open runner-up, winning in 75 minutes.
Dellacqua has battled foot and shoulder injuries in recent years, while Zvonareva was sidelined for 17 months due to illness and a shoulder injury.
But it was Dellacqua who looked much the sharper on Monday, becoming the first Australian through to the second round, where she will take on Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens from Belgium.
“I’m stoked,” said Dellacqua.
“I’m shaking because I’m so nervous.
“I just wanted to close it out then and there.”
Dellacqua’s best grand slam singles result came six years ago at Melbourne Park, when she advanced to the fourth round.
But the news was not so good for countrywoman Jarmila Gajdosova, who blew a golden opportunity to break her nine-year duck at the Australian Open as she went down in a three-setter to German ninth seed Angelique Kerber.
Gajdosova, who battled the viral infection mononucleosis for much of 2013, looked the likely winner when she raced through the second set 6-0, despite rolling her left ankle and calling for a nine-minute medical timeout after the opening point.
But she could not keep the momentum going in the decider, allowing Kerber to escape with a 6-3 0-6 6-2 victory.
Gajdosova has never won a singles match at the Australian Open in nine attempts.
Kerber advanced to the final of last week’s Sydney International before being beaten by Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova.
Five other Australians play later on Monday, with the other eight taking to the court on Tuesday.
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Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur will start their Australian Open campaigns with contrasting mindsets.
Stosur, Australia’s only seed in men’s or women’s singles, admits to feeling the weight of expectations ahead of her afternoon opening round clash with unseeded Czech Klara Zakopalova.
By contrast, 17-year-old Barty will take an air of excitement into her night match against world No.1 Serena Williams, which few expect her to win.
“This is what we all train for in the pre-season. It’s really exciting to have that opportunity first up,” Barty said.
Stosur will have to overcome not only her own disappointing previous record at her home grand slam event, but turn the tables on Zakopalova just three days after losing to her at the Hobart International.
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