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Young guns primed to take out seasoned rivals

Future stars look set to shine

Alexander Zverev could be set for a big year
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Day two
Eurosport 1 & 2 from midnight Monday

Djokovic v Verdasco
Defending champion Novak Djokovic is the star attraction on day two of the Australian Open and the superb Serb is no bigger than 1-14 to defeat Fernando Verdasco in the Rod Laver Arena.

The six-time Melbourne victor was forced to dig deep when the pair met in the Qatar Open semi-finals, saving five match points against the Spaniard before defeating Andy Murray in the final.

Djokovic beat Verdasco in straight sets when the pair met in the 2015 Australian Open and the Serb, who always raises his game for the Grand Slams, is unlikely to offer up as many chances as he did in Doha.

Bookmakers appear to share that view – Coral quote Djokovic at 1-2 to win in three sets – and there looks little point getting involved in this one.

A Zverev v Haase
Alexander Zverev has long been earmarked as a future star of the ATP Tour and the 19-year-old German will be determined to make his mark in the opening Slam of 2017.

He meets Robin Haase in his first-round match and the 2014 Australian Open junior champion should prove too much for the Dutchman to handle.

Zverev, who captured his first ATP World Tour title when he defeated Stan Wawrinka in St Petersburg in September, is bidding to crack the world’s top ten and strong performances in Grand Slams will help him achieve that.

Haase took just two games off the German in their only previous meeting and he has a poor record at Melbourne Park – losing in each of his last five Australian Open first-round matches and capturing just one set in that rotten run.

Zverev – who warmed up for the tournament with a Hopman Cup victory over Roger Federer – is likely to prove too strong for Haase and he should be backed to demolish the Dutchman.

Recommendation
A Zverev to win 3-0
2pts Evs general

Tiafoe v Kukushkin
Another future star is in action as young American Frances Tiafoe takes on Kazakh journeyman Mikhail Kukushkin. Tiafoe turns 19 this week and will be aiming to celebrate by reaching the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his fledgling career.

Kukushkin has been in poor form either side of the winter break. He lost four straight matches – beaten twice at odds-on – before the season ended and he resumed with qualifying defeats in both Brisbane and Sydney.

The Kazakh’s ranking has plummeted from 53 to 97 and Tiafoe, who is ranked 108 in the world and rising fast, will be aiming to leapfrog him with a victory.

The 18-year-old won two ATP Challenger Tour events last season and came close to knocking out John Isner in an opening round five-setter at the US Open. He will be full of confidence after coming through qualifying and should be backed at 8-13 to defeat his struggling opponent.

Recommendation
F Tiafoe
1pt 8-13 Ladbrokes


Serena set for a big test

S Williams v Bencic
All eyes will be on Serena Williams in the women’s action as she starts her bid for a 23rd Grand Slam title but there are huge doubts over the number two seed following a disappointing second-round loss against Madison Brengle in Auckland.

Serena’s 2016 season was cut short after her US Open semi-final defeat and form and fitness is an obvious concern as she kicks off her campaign against Belinda Bencic.

There are similar question marks over Swiss starlet Bencic, who returned to action in the Hopman Cup before retiring from her Sydney International opener with a toenail injury.

A fully-fit Bencic would be capable of challenging a sub-par Serena but it’s difficult to know where either player is at and punters should swerve this titanic first-round clash.

Konjuh v Mladenovic
Ana Konjuh and Kiki Mladenovic face off in what the betting suggests should be a competitive match with Konjuh looking a more attractive option.

Bookmakers are struggling to split the pair but Konjuh, who has climbed to a career-high ranking of 36 after making the final of the ASB Classic in Auckland, has the tools to deal with her more experienced opponent.

The 19-year-old Croatian captured both hard-court Slams as a junior and demonstrated her liking for the surface when she dumped Agnieszka Radwanska out of the US Open in September.

Mladenovic partnered Richard Gasquet to Hopman Cup success for France but she lost two of her four matches – against Andrea Petkovic and Coco Vandeweghe – in that tournament and her game might not be able to match that of Konjuh’s, who can be backed at 10-11 to advance.

Recommendation

A Konjuh
1pt 10-11 Coral, Ladbrokes

Haase took just two games off the German in their only previous meeting and he has a poor record at Melbourne Park
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