FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2019, file photo, Serena Williams of the United States plays a shot against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland at the Hopman Cup tennis tournament in Perth, Australia. Serena Williams is one of the women to keep an eye on at the Australian Open, Jan. 14-27, 2019. (AP Photo/Trevor Collens, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2019, file photo, Serena Williams of the United States plays a shot against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland at the Hopman Cup tennis tournament in Perth, Australia. Serena Williams is one of the women to keep an eye on at the Australian Open, Jan. 14-27, 2019. (AP Photo/Trevor Collens, File) (AP Photo/Trevor Collens, File)

Tennis: Australian Open - 1st Round - Women; 18 picks + 5 bonus

Our hot tennis guru looks at the women’s draw and sees some matches he likes.

Australian Open
1st Round - Women

Simona Halep, 1, Romania over Kai Kanepi, 70, Estonia
Kanepi got a bad draw and will play with Halep, the world’s #1 player, but Halep is too consistent, even coming off of an extended four month layoff.

Sofia Kenin, 56, USA over Veronika Kudermetova, 111, Russia
Kenin looked really good last week and the transplanted Russian should make her neighbors in Pembroke Pines, FL happy as she takes out 21-year-old Kudermetova. Kenin will win on experience alone.

Alize Cornet, 47, France over Lara Arruabarrena, 83, Spain
Cornet is a seasoned veteran who has too many tools for the Spaniard, although this should be a competitive match.

Genie Bouchard, 79, Canada over Shuai Peng, 129, China
Just three years ago Bouchard was a rising star and the new “IT” girl on the WTA Tour, and then she had a horrible fall after a match at the U.S. Open and hasn’t been the same since. But this year she looks like she’s on the way back, finally, and should overcome Peng, a Tour veteran, with strong ground strokes and steely play.

Serena Williams, 16, USA over Tatjana Maria, 71, Germany
In years past Serena would come out on the court and her opponent would cower like Mike Tyson’s opponents would in the early 90’s when he was invincible. That no longer is the case. The other players know she’s beatable. But the mommy who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, FL still possesses the single biggest weapon in the history of Women’s tennis: her serve.

Varvara Lapchenko, 134, USA over Natalia Vikhlyantseva, 135, Russia
Lapchenko is a transplanted Russian who lives in Allentown, PA. How did she get there? Legend has it that she went to a Billy Joel concert in Moscow, heard him sing his song, “Allentown”, and found a new home! In this battle between two qualifiers, the veteran should overcome the 21-year-old youngster.

Camila Giorgi, 27, Italy over Dalila Jakupovic, 82, Slovenia
Giorgi is very solid off the ground and is an experienced competitor. Jakupovic, although the same age, is a journeyman with little experience, especially in the big-time. Giorgi should be able to run Jakupovic off the court.

Garbine Muguruza, 18, Spain over Saisai Zeng, 39, China
Muguruza is a champion and should be considered an outside contender here. Zeng can play, but for some reason doesn’t win a lot of matches. She won’t win this one.

Karolina Pliskova, 7, Czech Republic over Karolina Muchova, 141, Czech Republic
Pliskova has been playing particularly well and is considered a legitimate contender for the title. A win over her 22-year-old compatriot will just be a stepping-stone to better things.

Victoria Azarenka, 52, Belarus over Laura Siegemund, 110, Germany
Azarenka, a former World #1, is returning after giving birth and is unseeded and ranked in the 50’s. But she has won an astonishing 73% of her professional matches and has close to $30 Million is prize money socked away. Siegemund is better than her current ranking, but won’t beat Azarenka here and now.

Madison Keys, 17, USA over Destanee Aiava, 193, Australia
When you watch Madison Keys hit its like watching the best and the brightest. And then the match starts. She’ll throw in some double faults here, hit some strong forehands long there, and pretty soon she looks befuddled and unhappy. If her talent could play without her head, Keys would have already won Grand Slams. But if she loses her head out there she could go down to this 18-year-old wild-card rookie with no business being on the same court as her.

Petra Kvitova, 8, Czech Republic over Magdalena Rybarikova, 50, Slovakia
Kvitova looked as good as she has in years last week as she rolled to a title in Sydney over Barty. She was solid, and when pressured she bent but didn’t break. She looked good enough to me to consider her an outside favorite here.

Leisa Tsurenko, 24, Ukraine over Ektarina Alexandrova, 72, Russia
I love the way Alexandrova plays. She hits with power and precession and can blow people off the court. But last week in Sydney, Sloane Stephens tried to give their match to the Russian and Alexandrova just couldn’t take it. She won the first set 6-0 and still managed to lose even as Stephens sometimes went games without hitting three shots in a row in. Although the Russian could win this match, she won’t. Her head will get in the way against the experienced Tsurenko.

Ashleigh Barty, 15, Australia over Luksika Kumkhum, 66, Thailand
Barty is just getting better and better after getting to last week’s Finals in Sydney. She should roll over Kumkhum in front of her supportive home fans.

Sloane Stephens, 5, USA over Taylor Townsend, 94, USA
The USTA, who has been training Townsend, has suggested that she lose weight for maybe five years now. Too bad she didn’t listen. If she were more fit and could last a good three sets in the heat and sun in Melbourne, she’d beat Stephens, who is playing some of the worst tennis of her career. But Stephens will find a way to win this match before she implodes down under.

Angelique Kerber, 2, Germany over Polona Hercog, 92, Slovenia
Kerber has looked pretty good going into the new year, and as a three time Grand Slam Champion she has the experience to pull out matches that matter. She’ll be too much for Hercog.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkoova, 42, Russia over Monica Puig, 53, Puerto Rico
The worst thing that ever happened to Monica Puig was to win the Gold Medal at the last Olympics. For some reason she can’t win a thing since, and she won’t win this first round encounter with the tough Russian.

Caroline Wozniacki, 3, Denmark over Alison Van Uytvanck, 51, Belgium
Wozniacki is a Grand Slam Champion and a solid, versatile veteran. She’ll overpower the Belgian and move on to bigger and better things.

5 Late Bonus Picks

Maria Sharapova, 30, Russia over Harriet Dart, 132, Great Britain
The 6’2” Sharapova is not playing her best, having been sidelined with a PED suspension. Her comeback, at 30, probably won’t lead to another Grand Slam title. Still, she has won a brilliant 79% of her pro matches and has pocketed over $38 million in prize money, and she will have too much firepower, especially on her serve for Dart to be in this match.

Aryna Sabalenka, 11, Belarus over Anna Kalinskaya, 167, Russia
The photogenic 20-year-old Kalinskaya is short on experience and short on success. She won’t be able to stand up to the power of Sabalenka, and Sabalenka should control this match from beginning to end. But the pre-match picture should come out well.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 348, USA over Zoe Hives, 211, Australia
At every Grand Slam tournament the home country enjoys the privilege of entering as Wild Cards some of their young players who wouldn’t get in otherwise. Hives is one of those wild cards. Although she’ll get experience from playing this tournament, the American has far too much match-play experience to fall to a woman in her first professional match. If you don’t know who is who in this match, look for the woman with socks up to her knees and that will be Mattek-Sands.

Naomi Osaka, 4, Japan over Magda Linette, 86, Poland
Osaka, the newly crowned U.S. Open Champion, is the real deal. The 21- year-old hits bombs off of her groundies and showed her steely resolve when she overcame the fiasco Serena Williams ignited late in the second set of their U.S. Open Final. Her draw appears favorable, and if she continues her stellar play she could win this title.

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