Tuesday, January 19, 2010 Updated: January 20, 8:32 AM ET
Expect fireworks aplenty in Dent-Tsonga
By Ravi Ubha ESPN.com
Roger Federer squeaked past heavy-hitting Igor Andreev on Tuesday but figures to have a much easier task against veteran Romanian Victor Hanescu in the second round. The Swiss, chasing a record-extending 16th major, leads their head-to-heads 3-0 without dropping a set. No sign of trouble, then. Instead, a former finalist's clash with a resurgent American is perhaps the top attraction on Day 4 of the Australian Open.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10) versus Taylor Dent: Those present won't soon forget Dent's emotional, uplifting win over Spanish serve-and-volleyer -- really -- Ivan Navarro at Flushing Meadows in September. Heck, those who watched on television won't soon forget, either.
On an overflowing Grandstand court, Dent pulled out a dramatic fifth-set tiebreaker to cap 4 hours, 21 minutes of all-out attacking tennis. Dent, absent from his home major for four years because of a back injury that threatened to relegate him to a wheelchair, subsequently grabbed the umpire's microphone and thanked the ecstatic U.S. Open fans for their support. He stuck around to sign autographs for everyone in the stadium.
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Expect the atmosphere to be electric again when Dent meets Tsonga, a little more of a crowd favorite Thursday, in a battle of big servers who wouldn't look out place on a football field. Like Dent, Tsonga has a history of back problems.
"It's going to be a tough next round," Dent said outside the player cafe after finishing an early practice session Wednesday. "I'm going to have to pick up my game a little bit, but it's a great opportunity. I'm excited. These are the opportunities that give you a chance to move deep into a Grand Slam."
Dent's win over Navarro in New York put him into the third round, and topping Tsonga would send the 28-year-old into the third round at the Australian Open for the first time in five years. His Aussie dad, Phil, already proud his son overcame the back injury, would be delighted further. Papa played in a Davis Cup final.
Dent, ranked 79th, swept past Italian Fabio Fognini 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 in a rapid 80 minutes on Tuesday, despite registering a first-serve percentage of 53 and getting broken three times. Fognini prefers clay and lopes around the court looking disinterested at times, something his big forehand can't overcome.
Tsonga looked sharp in disposing dangerous Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky in straight sets after vowing in the offseason to step up his intensity. But Tsonga admitted he'd rather have faced Fognini, ranked 56th, than Dent.
"I'm not scared of anybody more than I'm scared of myself on the court," said Dent, who was as high as 21st five years ago. "I can make some errors. I feel like if I play good tennis, I like my chances. Just maybe some more first serves and forehands, then I'll be there with a great shot."
Dent worked hard in the offseason, so much so that he got sick. Losing weight wasn't much of a priority for the 195-pounder. He's always had a bigger build, with his body fat nonetheless a minuscule 7 percent in his last full season on tour prior to the back injury. Fitness will be a factor since temperatures are expected to reach 90 degrees.
Fatherhood also occupied his thoughts. Dent and wife Jennifer Hopkins, a former WTA pro, are expecting their first child on Jan. 27. Hopkins is back home in Kansas City while Phil is in Melbourne spearheading the cheerleading.
"I let Dad take care of all the tickets," Dent said. "I always get great support here, and it's exciting to play in my home-away-from-home crowd."
Prediction: Tsonga in five.
Serena Williams should face few roadblocks until Week 2 at the Australian Open.
Serena Williams (1) versus Petra Kvitova: Anyone who knocks off a world No. 1 can't be overlooked. Kvitova, a 19-year-old Czech ranked 77th, did just that at the U.S. Open in battling past Dinara Safina.
But Safina was wounded physically and mentally, scarred by repeatedly being asked whether she deserved to be No. 1 despite never winning a major.
Williams rarely loses to such underdogs and appears to have a cushy draw to the fourth round, if an ailing leg holds up.
Prediction: Williams in two.Marcos Baghdatis versus David Ferrer (17): A title in Sydney last week catapulted Baghdatis to 31st in the rankings. It was too late to earn a seeding in Melbourne, however, and as a consequence the charismatic Cypriot faces the tenacious Ferrer in the second round.
Both players cruised in their openers. Spain's Ferrer led Portuguese Frederico Gil in an all-Iberian clash 6-0, 6-0, 2-0 before Gil retired with a knee injury. Baghdatis downed Italian qualifier Paolo Lorenzi in three.
Ferrer leads their head-to-heads 2-0, both on hard courts, without dropping a set. An otherwise forgettable 2009 ended brightly for Ferrer when he helped Spain retain the Davis Cup.
Prediction: Baghdatis in four. Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.