By Jake Davies
- Serena Williams  vs Belinda Bencic H2H: level at 1-1
- Camila Giorgi vs Timea Bacsinszky  H2H: Bacsinszky leads 1-0
- Yanina Wickmayer vs Lucie Safarova H2H: level at 1-1
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – The bottom half of the draw gets underway with one of the most hotly anticipated matches coming up.
Serena Williams  vs Belinda Bencic H2H: 1-1
A lot of questions were raised after Serena Williams faltered to World No.69 Madison Brengle in the ASB Classic last week. The loss marked the worst loss in three years for the World No.2 and casted a great amount of doubt over her chances of winning her 23rd grand slam in titles. Many suggest that the younger Williams sister will find it difficult to surpass the grand slam total of Margaret Court at 24 grand slam singles titles.
The fact remains that Serena Williams is still one of the favourites for any grand slam she enters in. In a year to forget, Williams still managed to make three grand slam finals inside the same season, losing out to Angelique Kerber at the 2016 Australian Open final, coming up short to Garbiñe Muguruza at Roland Garros and winning her 22nd major win at Wimbledon.
Her opponent in the first round of Melbourne is Belinda Bencic. The Swiss youngster is looking to rebound after an injury-ravaged season in which she dropped down in the rankings considerably. The former US Open quarter-finalist beat Williams in the Rogers Cup back in 2015, where she claimed her biggest WTA Title, so has the additional experience of knowing what it takes to get a victory over one of the world’s greatest players of all time.
Williams likes to grow into tournaments and usually becomes harder and harder to beat as she reaches the latter stages. Williams has not played a huge amount of tennis since the US Open last year, so Bencic could make things extremely uncomfortable for Williams. It should be a tight encounter, but Williams is the heavy favourite to come out with the win.
Prediction: Williams in two tight sets
Camila Giorgi vs Timea Bacsinszky  H2H: Bacsinszky leads 1-0
Italy’s Camila Giorgi comes up against Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky in one of the first round match-ups. Giorgi is a fascinating player to watch as she drills every ball with considerable venom and leaves no stone unturned when competing on the match court. The main issue for Giorgi is bringing together that power game over a consistent basis, which she has struggled notably with during her short career on the WTA to date. That power game has earned her victories over Caroline Wozniacki at the US Open in 2013 and she has beaten the likes of Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka in the past also.
Bacsinszky can give as good as she gets off the backhand wing. It is a clean, crisp, technically sound shot that has proved a crucial weapon in her rise to World No.9 in the world rankings and helped her achieve a grand slam semi-final back in 2015.
The key for Giorgi is whether she can serve consistently as she can be liable to serving a high number of double faults at inopportune times. If she maintains a reliable high level of serving and attacks the weaker forehand wing of Bacsinszky I can see Giorgi prevailing in this first round bout.
Prediction: Giorgi in two sets.
Yanina Wickmayer vs Lucie Safarova H2H: Tied at 1-1
Neither Yanina Wickmayer and Lucie Safarova are in the greatest phase of their very decorated careers, but they are placed in a tough section of the draw where the winner could collide with Serena Williams in the second round. The former World No.5 Safarova faced off against Williams in the 2015 Roland Garros final, but never really kicked on after struggles with illness and injuries in recent years.
Safarova has found it increasingly difficult to accumulate match wins on the court since Wimbledon of last year but has still been extremely successful on the doubles court alongside America’s Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
I think Safarova will win this opener. The telling factor will be whether Safarova can consistently find her targets with the left-handed serve out-wide. Usually it is her favourite serve, but she will be serving into Wickmayer’s strength – her backhand stroke. That is the key battle where the match will be won and lost.
Prediction: Safarova in two sets.
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