A delayed first round encounter sees 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka take on former top ten player Carla Suarez Navarro, playing in Melbourne for the last time, for a place in the second round at the Australian Open.
Suarez Navarro has already announced that she will be retiring at the end of 2020, and will be looking for a good run at her final Australian Open, having previously reached the last eight in 2009, 2016, and 2018. In contrast, Sabalenka is still near the start of her career, and will be looking for a big breakthrough at a Grand Slam tournament this season.
It is the Belorussian, currently 42 spots above Suarez Navarro in the ranking, who has won all three previous meetings between the two, though the past two have both gone to a deciding set. The winner will face Iga Swiatek or Timea Babos in the second round.
2019 proved to be a tough season for Suarez Navarro as fell 30 spots in the world rankings, and she has not had too much success at the beginning of 2020. She lost in the first round in Shenzhen to Daria Kasatkina in three sets, and then suffered another three set defeat to world number 201 Arina Rodionova in the first round of qualifying in Adelaide. She will eagerly be looking for an improved performance here.
Sabalenka had a bumpy 2019 season, though ended strongly, and has shown some good form in 2020 so far. The Belorussian did lose to Krystina Pliskova in the second round of her title defence in Shenzhen, though then progressed to the last four in Adelaide, picking up wins over the likes of Hsieh Su-Wei and Simona Halep before losing to Dayana Yastremska. She will be encouraged by her run last week.
Sabalenka certainly comes into this match in better form and with more momentum, and will look to use that to see off the Spaniard. The 11th seed has by far the bigger groundstrokes of the two, and will look to dictate play from the beginning, though must be wary of how Suarez Navarro could frustrate her and force errors. Sabalenka can also struggle on serve, so will be looking for a high first serve percentage and few double faults to make things easier for.
Suarez Navarro certainly cannot match her opponent for power and will likely spend a lot of time on the back foot, though does have the game to cause Sabalenka issues. The Spaniard is a good mover and will look to extend rallies to frustrate the Belorussian, whilst she will also look to use her one-handed backhand and slices to move the 12th seed into awkward positions. She will also look to apply pressure when on her opponents second serve.
There is little doubt that Sabalenka is the favourite for this match, though Suarez Navarro certainly has the capability to cause some problems here. There may be several tight games, though the Belorussian should be able to break her opponent down and reach round two.
Prediction: Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets