Australian Open storylines to watch: Andreescu ready for the challenge

Canada's Bianca Andreescu returns a shot. (Chris Symes/AP)

The stage is set for the first Grand Slam of 2019.

With the release of the Australian Open main draw, tennis season is fully underway.

Canada will be represented by a few well-known faces, and a very promising new one. Some legends will try to break records, while others might be saying their final goodbyes.

Here are five storylines to watch in Melbourne.

Andreescu ready for the big stage

“With what happened last week, I think I can get pretty far into next week,” Canadian Bianca Andreescu told the Associated Press Thursday after qualifying for the Aussie Open main draw.

The 18-year-old saw two of her three qualifying opponents forfeit due to injuries, but her road to Melbourne is no fluke. Andreescu is coming off a statement-making finals loss in Auckland against Julia Goerges after upsetting defending Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and tennis legend Venus Williams.

After securing her place in the main draw, the Mississauga, Ont., native has a number of new challenges ahead, as she’s in the same bracket half as No. 1 seed Simona Halep and Serena Williams. If last week is any indication, though, she’s up for the task.

Her first match will be against 16-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe, who earned a wild-card spot to the tournament.

Andreescu is one of four Canadians who qualified for the singles main draw.

Coming off a quarterfinals singles appearance and her first career doubles title in Auckland, Eugenie Bouchard could also meet with Halep and Williams early on. Her first match will be against wild-card earner Shuai Peng, from China.

Milos Raonic is still searching for his first Grand Slam title after reaching a Wimbledon final in 2016, and will face Australia’s Nick Kyrgios in the first round.

Denis Shapovalov will look to make a deeper run at the tournament this year after being knocked down in the second round in 2018. His first-round matchup will be against veteran Pablo Andujar, from Spain.

Gabriela Dabrowski will defend the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Croatian Mate Pavić – Dabrowski and Pavić are ranked No. 1. The Canadian is also competing in the women’s doubles tournament with China’s Xu Yifan as the third-ranked duo.

Serena chases an Australian legend

Williams could catch Margaret Court’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles right in her backyard.

Court had 24 major titles during her playing career, an all-time record among men and women. Williams is on the cusp of joining her, however, sitting at 23 following a remarkable return to the courts after a near-death experience while giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. in 2017.

The seven-time Aussie Open winner reached the finals in Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, but failed to earn the title on both occasions. A win at Melbourne Park, in Australia, would be a serendipitous closure in Williams’ quest for 24.

A tough schedule awaits her, though, with the possibility of facing world No. 1 Halep in the Round of 16. A couple of Grand Slam finals rematches also loom in Serena’s future, as she could face defending U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka in the semis and current Wimbledon titleholder Angelique Kerber in the final.

Federer and Djokovic neck-and-neck in record chase

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and world No. 3 Roger Federer might be close to settling who’s the most successful male player in Australian Open history.

The two are currently tied with retired Australian player Roy Emerson at six titles apiece. A potential meeting in the final would break that deadlock.

For Federer, this is also a chance to earn his 100th career singles title and his third-straight Australian Open. The Swiss could meet last year’s Aussie Open runner-up Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semis.

Djokovic, who enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed, could face Shapovalov, Kei Nishikori and Alexander Zverev on the road to the finals.

Murray’s probable farewell

Get your tissues ready, the Australian Open might be the last time we see Andy Murray play.

The Brit announced his premature retirement in an emotional press conference on Jan. 10 due to a lingering hip injury.

Murray won just two games in a practice match earlier in the week against Djokovic before the two players shook hands at a 6-1, 4-1 score. Murray even apologized to a young fan for not being “more entertaining,” promising her tickets to his first-round match in Melbourne.

Currently No. 230 in the ATP rankings, he’s set to face No. 22 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round of what could be his final tournament as a pro.

Murray spent 37 weeks as world No. 1 between November 2016 and August 2017.

Wozniacki’s challenging road to a repeat

World No. 3 Wozniacki may be entering the Australian Open as the titleholder, but she doesn’t appear to be a current favourite.

The Danish player won her first-ever Grand Slam title last year in Melbourne and has a tough road ahead in her quest to repeat the feat.

She has made it past the third round in Australia only three times since turning pro in 2005 and is coming off a second-round loss at the U.S. Open.

Wozniacki is on the same bracket half as the ever-dangerous Maria Sharapova. She could also be looking at a quarterfinal matchup against No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova and a potential semifinal versus No. 2 seed Kerber.

Not at all an easy task.

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