Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Australian Open 2010 [Print without images]

Sunday, January 17, 2010
Streaky Andreev has massive task

By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com

Roger Federer will begin his quest for Grand Slam No. 16. But his first-round opponent, Igor Andreev, is no walkover. Venus Williams, meanwhile, attempts to put her non-Wimbledon woes behind her. Can she finally rebound from a less-than-stellar 2009 season?

We'll find out soon enough. Here's a look at some of the notable Day 2 matches.

Roger Federer (1) versus Igor Andreev: Federer has had easier first-round matches at Grand Slams. But come on, Andreev got a raw deal.

Andreev prepped for his rematch with one of the greatest of all time by hitting with Spanish buddy David Ferrer amid windy and cool conditions in the backwater of Court 16 on Monday. He frequently let rip with his heavy powerhouse forehand, shanking one onto another court in the process, and let out a smile when asked about the draw.

Minutes later, Federer began his own practice session next door on Court 17 with the almost anonymous Italian Marco Crugnola, red Swiss flags and signs of, "We've been Federised" in tow.

"I was a bit unlucky," Andreev said, before turning pragmatic. "If you're ranked outside the top 32, you always expect anything can happen. I just try to forget about the draw and keep playing."

Some would argue Andreev, down to 37th, was a bit unlucky when the two last squared off in the fourth round at the U.S. Open two years ago. He lost a heartbreaker, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, when not many gave him a chance. Colorful Russian Davis Cup teammate Dmitry Tursunov, missing in Melbourne this year due to an ankle injury, famously quipped, "It's one dimension versus 67 different dimensions."

Andreev, though, served big and kept Federer at bay with the forehand. He manufactured 15 break points compared to Federer's seven, with the latter better on conversions. That was the difference.

Afterward, Federer said he enjoyed being tested because it's customarily so much easier.

"I had really good chances and was serving well and didn't give him many chances on my serve," said Andreev. "But one or two break chances are enough for Roger and maybe seven is too much. I definitely have to serve very well and be aggressive."

Andreev, who has progressed from being a clay-court specialist early in his career, admits his confidence isn't sky-high, and you can understand why. One of the men's tours streakiest players, Andreev lost seven straight matches near the end of 2009 and finished the campaign by dropping eight of nine. Starting 2010, the righty has gone 1-3, a crushing 50-minute loss to Andy Murray included.

Federer, meanwhile, despite losing at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and falling in the semifinals of the Qatar Open, told reporters over the weekend he thought he was "back where I want to be."

"The end of the year I played terrible, but now I'm trying to put everything together and trying to keep working hard," Andreev said. "Well, I just need time to get confident and I'm waiting for the results. It's the beginning of the year so I have a fresh head, trying to turn a new page. The most important thing for me will be to play good tennis and try to have a good match."

Andreev scampered away to watch girlfriend Maria Kirilenko complete the first sizable upset of the tournament, eliminating Maria Sharapova.

His spirits would have been lifted.

Prediction: Federer in four.

Venus Williams (6) versus Lucie Safarova: Another year and another opportunity for Williams to win a major outside Wimbledon. It's been a long time, eight years ago at Flushing Meadows, to be exact, and Williams, at 29, isn't getting any younger. Williams didn't come close to ending the drought in 2009, failing to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne, Paris and London. Yes, that's somewhat hard to believe given the aura of the Williams sisters.

Venus Williams
Venus Williams has not won a Grand Slam title outside of England since the 2001 U.S. Open.

Harder to believe was the manner in which Williams fell to Spanish clay-court specialist Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round here last year. Williams led 5-2 in the third set and wasted a match point, sending a routine backhand return long. She was picked by many to win Down Under following an impressive end to 2008.

Safarova, a lefty, is unpredictable and not the most mentally tough player out there. But also similar to her longtime boyfriend, Tomas Berdych, the Czech is mighty dangerous, explosive from the baseline. Safarova had a decent start this year, too, venturing to the quarterfinals in Brisbane and inflicting a second-set bagel in a losing effort against none other than Kim Clijsters. A chest injury forced the world No. 41 to retire in the first round in Hobart.

Williams leads their head-to-heads 3-0, all on clay, but Safarova has fond recent memories of the Australian Open, achieving her lone major quarterfinal in Oz two years ago.

Prediction: Williams in three.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10) versus Sergiy Stakhovsky: Tsonga is back where it all began for him, the third of four surprising packages at the Australian Open since 2006.

Since reaching the final in 2008, losing to Novak Djokovic, Tsonga has had more injury concerns. A bum knee sidelined the effervescent 24-year-old, the spiritual leader of the French pack, later that season and a lingering back problem almost meant his exclusion from the Australian Open in 2009. Tsonga then withdrew from this month's Qatar Open with a wrist injury, more as a precaution than anything else, mind you.

He's had problems with his intensity and knows it, vowing in the offseason not to hit the court if he's not 100 percent into a match.

Stakhovsky, like Safarova, has more peaks and valleys than a Rafa forehand. The Ukrainian, ranked 62nd, won his first title as a lucky loser and second as a qualifier, also topping talented Russian Mikhail Youzhny in Doha this month. Yet he lost 14 times to players outside the top 100 in 2009.

If Tuesday matches Monday's cool and damp conditions, which is expected, it certainly won't help Tsonga.

Prediction: Tsonga in five.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.