Australian Open first round preview: Angelique Kerber vs Lesia Tsurenko

Australian Open first round preview: Angelique Kerber vs Lesia Tsurenko

World number one Angelique Kerber returns to the Australian Open as the defending champion, and the German begins her campaign for a second consecutive title in Melbourne against Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko.

Tevon King

Angelique Kerber will be attempting to retain a Grand Slam singles title for the first time in her career. The German shocked the world by defeating Serena Williams in last year's Australian Open final in a three-set thriller. The world number one has since won another Grand Slam singles title at the US Open last September, and Kerber has a tough draw ahead of her.

How different saving a match point, can change your career. Kerber had one foot back on the plane to Germany, when she was a match point down against Japan's Misaki Doi. The rest is history and the German fearlessly went through the draw to win her first Slam title.

Kerber's first round opponent is the world number 61 Lesia Tsurenko will pose a tricky test for the reigning champion as the Ukranian, reached the fourth round of the US Open last year. She defeated 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova to advance to the second week of a Slam for the first time in her career.

The defending champion could relinquish the world number one ranking back to Serena Williams, only if Williams advances to the final. Should Kerber, reach the fourth round, Williams would need to win the title, and the Germany native would have to lose before the final, in order to regain the top spot. If Kerber, reaches the final, she remains as the world number one regardless of what happens in the draw.

Kerber's results leading up to Melbourne

The defending champion began her 2017 campaign in Brisbane, where she was a finalist last year, losing to Victoria Azarenka. Kerber's first match of the year was a three-set battle with Australia's Ashleigh Barty, prevailing, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. Furthermore, in the quarterfinals, Tsurenko's compatriot, Elina Svitolina dispatched Kerber in three sets.

The world number one refocused and travelled to Sydney, and she was up against 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina. The Russian upset Kerber in straight sets, 7-6 (5), 6-2 to send the German packing early.

Kerber picture here during a practice session at Melbourne Park (Photo by Scott Barbour / Getty Images)
Kerber pictured here during a practice session at Melbourne Park (Photo by Scott Barbour / Getty Images)

Tsurenko's results leading up to Melbourne

Tsurenko began her 2017 campaign at the Hobart International, recording straight sets victories over Silvia Soler-Espinosa, and Johanna Larsson. Moreover, in the quarterfinals, the Ukranian had to come back from a set down to defeat last year's French Open quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers in three sets.

Unfortunately, Tsurenko retired from her semifinal match with Monica Niculescu due to a viral illness, taking a precaution before the Australian Open gets underway. 

Tsurenko retired in Hobart with an illness (Photo by Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)
Tsurenko retired in Hobart with an illness (Photo by Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)

Their history

Kerber and Tsurenko have met on one occasion, and it was on Australian hard courts in Sydney back in 2015. The two-time Grand Slam champion recovered from a set down to defeat Tsurenko, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Who wins?

The reigning Australian Open champion will have a tough task on her hands to keep the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy. Kerber will potentially meet last year's Wimbledon quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova in round 3. Daria Kasatkina or Roberta Vinci could pose a few problems for Kerber in the fourth round.

In the quarterfinals, Kerber's on a collision course with French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. Kerber trails Muguruza 4-3 in their head-to-head meetings, including two at Grand Slams. In the semifinals, fourth seed Simona Halep, Venus Williams or Svetlana Kuznetsova are all capable of ending Kerber's title defence. 

Should Kerber advance to the final, the world number one could face world number two Serena Williams or Karolina Pliskova in a rematch of their US Open final encounter last September. 

The Ukranian has the credentials to trouble Kerber, as in 2015, Tsurenko recorded five victories over top ten players. She defeated Andrea Petkovic and Eugenie Bouchard in Indian Wells, French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in Toronto, last year's US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova in New Haven, and Lucie Safarova in the first round of the US Open.

Tsurenko's forehand is a good weapon, which works well on hard courts. Moreover, Kerber is a good returner, and she is the better athlete out of the two players. The German's serve isn't the strongest but her trademark down the line shot bails out her out of trouble in long rallies. 

Kerber hasn't had the best of starts to the year, but this will be a good test to get the German settled into her first Grand Slam title defence. The winner of this match will face Japanese qualifier Eri Hozumi or Kerber's compatriot Carina Witthoft.

This will be the first match scheduled for the evening session on Day 1 of the Australian Open in the Rod Laver Arena at 7 pm local time, and once Kerber steps onto that court, she will be comfortable, and extremely tough to beat.

Prediction: Kerber in straight sets