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Breaking down the Australian Open

Say this for professional tennis, it always starts its season with a bang. While it's only mid January, the first major tournament of the season, the Australian Open began Sunday (Monday in Melbourne). Here is a look at some story lines and who to watch.

Henin is back

Justine Henin retired just before the 2008 French Open and unretired after 20 months to make a run at an elusive Wimbledon championship. Henin, 27, has won seven major championships, including the 2004 Australian Open. This will be her first major since she shocked tennis with her retirement. She lost to fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in the final of the Brisbane International last week. "I feel it's my place to be here," said the wild card, who was scheduled to play today.

Is this Murray's year?

No. 5-ranked Andy Murray of Scotland, 22, has not won a Grand Slam event in 17 tries, but he appears to be getting closer. Some believe if Murray doesn't get one this year, he may be compared to fellow country­man Tim Henman, who had tons of talent but no major titles.

Men's draw

The obvious

Roger Federer: He is top seed and the world's best player. Federer has 15 major championships and three Australian titles, though he hasn't won Down Under since 2007. Federer, 28, has been a winner or runnerup in seven straight majors dating to the 2008 French Open.

Rafael Nadal: The No. 2 seed and defending champion. Since last year's tournament, Nadal has not appeared in a major championship final. Already this year he played in the Qatar Open but lost to Nikolay Davydenko in the final.

The sleepers

Novak Djokovic: The No. 3 seed won here in 2008 and is coming into the tournament with three international wins at the end of 2009. Look out.

Juan Martin Del Potro: He won the last major of 2009, the U.S. Open, the first major of his career. The 21-year-old Argentine is playing well, but his best Australian Open finish in three previous tries was the quarterfinals.

The American hopefuls

Andy Roddick: He won the 2003 U.S. Open, but has otherwise been a disappointment in the majors. In eight Australian Opens, Roddick has made only semifinal appearances in 2007 and last year. He is seeded seventh.

Sam Querrey: The 22-year-old from Thousand Oaks, Calif., is seeded 25th and has had little Grand Slam success. He was ousted in the first round last year and opens against veteran Rainer Schuettler.

The hometown heroes

Lleyton Hewitt: The 28-year-old Australian has banged away at his hometown tournament since 1997. He was the runnerup in 2005 but hasn't made it past the fourth round since. It will be tough this year for the 22nd seed.

Peter Luczak: He hasn't made it past the third round since he started playing here in 2003, and he opened with a match early this morning against Nadal. Yikes.

Women's draw

The obvious

Serena Williams: She has won four times in Australia, including last year. She was fined and placed on a two-year probation period after berating an official at the 2009 U.S. Open, which allowed her to play in Australia. Williams, with 11 major champion­ships, likely must go through sister Venus to reach the final.

Dinara Safina: The 23-year-old Russian never has won a major, but she has been close. This could be her breakthrough. She was a runnerup to Serena in 2009.

The sleeper

Svetlana Kuznetsova: The No. 3 seed has two major tournament wins. She was an Australian Open quarterfinalist last year.

The young guns

Caroline Wozniacki: The 19-year-old fourth seed made herself known when she was the runnerup at last year's U.S. Open. She can go deep in a strong field.

Victoria Azarenka: The 20-year-old started playing in Grand Slam events at 16. The seventh seed has three singles titles.

The veterans

Kim Clijsters: The 26-year-old retired in 2007 and didn't play competitively again until last year when she won her second U.S. Open.

Venus Williams: The 29-year-old has been playing at Melbourne since 1998. It could be one of her last shots at a first Open title. She has won seven majors.

Who not to watch

Maria Sharapova: She missed this event last year due to shoulder surgery and was hoping to show she has regained her form. Instead, the No. 14 seed became the first upset victim, beaten by Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-4 early today. It was her earliest exit at a Grand Slam since the 2003 French Open.





FAST FACTS

No. 14 Sharapova falls in opener

MELBOURNE, Australia — Former champion Maria Sharapova lost her first-round match at the Australian Open to Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-4 early today.

The 14th-seeded Sharapova fell behind 4-1 in the third set. She got within 4-5, but was broken in the final game.

"Just didn't win the match … bottom line," Sharapova said. "Certainly had my chances.''

Eleven fans were ejected for disruptive behavior and smuggling flares onto the grounds. In another incident, police said Croatian supporters were denied entry after setting off a flare.

Other key results: Men Andy Roddick (7) d. Thiemo de Bakker 6-1, 6-4, 6-4; Fernando Gonzalez (11) d. Olivier Rochus 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1; Ivan Ljubicic (24) d. Jason Kubler 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Women Dinara Safina (2) d. Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-4; Kim Clijsters d. Valerie Tetreault 6-0, 6-4.

TV: 7 p.m., Tennis Channel; 9 p.m., ESPN2

Times wires

Breaking down the Australian Open 01/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 12:19am]
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