Comeback Kid Davenport and Sharapova on course for second-round clash

Updated: January 11, 2008

Intriguing early-round battles Down Under

Drawing a few conclusions from the Australian Open draw, lightning-round style:

Women

Is Lindsay Davenport a contender here? It won't take long to find out. She's in Justine Henin's quarter and, barring disaster, she'll get Maria Sharapova in the second round. Sharapova is 4-1 against Mighty Mom, the only exception being a double bagel at Indian Wells back in '05. Davenport can certainly slug it out with Sharapova from the baseline; it'll all come down to serving.

Give thanks to the fates for making sure Henin and Serena Williams didn't land in the same quarter for what would have been the fourth straight Slam. At least one of the best rivalries in the sport will get to play out one round later if both last that long -- and we expect them to.

Jankovic

The great and terrible Oz decreed that Austria's Tamira Paszek, one of the most impressive teenagers in the women's game, would meet Jelena Jankovic in the curtain-raiser. This is either wonderful or too bad, depending on your viewpoint. The sunny Serb won in straight sets in their only previous match, on clay in Rome last year.

Clearest path? Venus Williams, even though Li Na might stir things up in the round of 16 if her comeback continues. Williams hasn't gone deep in this Slam since 2003, but she's 4-0 against potential quarterfinal foe Ana Ivanovic of Serbia and has a great shot at whoever comes out of the bottom quarter, otherwise known as the Kids' Table (see below).

Some of the most compelling young players in the women's game are bunched between Russians Anna Chakvetadze and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Agnes Szavay (Hungary), Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland), Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic, a quarterfinalist in Australia last year), Michaella Krajicek (Netherlands) and Maria Kirilenko (Russia) could all throw a few toys out of the playpen.

Men

The most intriguing first-round matchup could be Marat Safin, whose separated-at-birth resemblance to Dr. McSteamy of "Grey's Anatomy" was just confirmed by a fast-spreading YouTube video, versus the fierce young Latvian Ernest Gulbis, who KOed Tommy Robredo at the U.S. Open last year.

On second thought, the pairing just below them is pretty good as well. Is Marcos Baghdatis ready to get serious again? We'll find out when he plays the never-easy Swede Thomas Johansson, who had the tournament of his life in Melbourne when he won in 2002.

And in that same wacky quarter, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic takes on Vince Spadea with potential for high vaudeville. That's not a tennis match, it's an animated feature.

Young

If Donald Young can beat No. 52 Michael Berrer -- a German player who made a stealthy jump of 100 places in the rankings in 2007 -- he'll run into Andy Roddick in the second round. The winner of that match could get another German, Philipp Kohlschreiber, who played himself into the final in Auckland.

Andy Murray might not be able to breeze through his opener against French strongman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who gave Roddick fits in the same situation last year.

Roger Federer may be rooting for John Isner, who sneaked into the main draw courtesy of a few injury withdrawals, in the first round so he doesn't have to face the enduringly pesky Fabrice Santoro. Isner took a set off Federer in New York, but the slower courts here will take a little edge off that booming serve. Federer's 2007 finals opponent, Fernando Gonzalez, who beat Federer in round-robin play at the year-end championships, lurks in the quarters.

Reader picks: Our Question of the Week asked for dark horse quarterfinals selections before the draw came out, which was slightly unfair, but we'll rationalize it by saying it calls for more intuition than pure number crunching. Harlan Cutshall of Falmouth, Maine, liked Paszek to go one round further than she's gone in the past two Slams and rightly pointed out how well she played last week in Auckland, where she got a quality win against Kirilenko in the quarters. We think the 17-year-old will give Jankovic a good match; if she can pull off an upset, she could do some damage, especially if Amelie Mauresmo isn't at full strength. … Chicago's Alfonzo Moore likes Isner, and so does Andrew Tjader, who boldly predicted that Federer would fall in the quarters, while Isner would blast through. That was before we knew the two were on a collision course in the second round if -- and it's a major if -- Isner can dispatch Santoro. … Emmet Donnelly of Bay Shore, N.Y., made an original and well-informed pick by going with Melbourne homeboy Chris Guccione, who's had a great run to the finals in Sydney. Gonzalez likely awaits Guccione in the second round.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. E-mail her at bonniedford@aol.com.


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Q&A with Sampras

Sampras

Pete Sampras spoke with reporters on a conference call Wednesday to promote his March 10 exhibition with Roger Federer in Madison Square Garden -- the first time the two have played in North America and the first tennis event at the Garden since the women's year-end championships ended their run there in 2000.

Sampras knows he's in for a lot of questions about Federer and the Grand Slam record in the coming months: "I've had more interview requests this past year than I have in my prime,'' he noted.

When it was ESPN.com's turn, we asked him about Federer's personality, and fan speculation about the competitiveness of their three-match series in Asia last year. Here is a lightly edited transcript of the exchange:

Bonnie D. Ford: I was curious that you would say [Federer] is a jokester or prankster, etcetera. You're right, that's not a side of him we see. And the rap that he is sort of boring or not the most compelling personality, that's certainly something you're familiar with. Did you encourage him or do you think that he should kind of try to show that side of himself more to the tennis public and the public at large?

Pete Sampras: Not if he doesn't want to -- you have to understand, it is hard to do both. It is hard to be this sort of jokester, prankster, charismatic sort of personality and be the best player in the world. It's very hard to do. It's something that, you know, what he's doing and how he's doing it, I respect. Every media person, every fan has a different sort of athlete. He's sort of my guy. He's not brash, he's not abrasive, he lets his racket do his talking. I don't think that's a negative. I think if anything that's positive. And so to hear someone say he's boring is: I'm so tired of hearing that s--- it's nauseating. So just respect what he's doing.

Q: And last, there was a whole round of speculation on the Internet after your series in Asia that you guys sort of had a prearranged (at least kind of) attitude, about we gotta keep this balanced. If Roger wins the first two, Pete's gotta win the third.

Sampras: Not true. We played. We didn't talk about any first set, second set, you do this, I'll do that. But exhibitions are a tricky sort of deal. Like you want to entertain and, you know, and have a lighter side, but you also want to play well. I think people want to see both, and I think we were able to pull it off a little bit in Asia ,and I think we'll pull it off again at the Garden and at the time where we're not holding on quite as tight. But, you know, with 10,000 people in there, we're going to want to play well. And he's not going to want to lose; I'm not going to going to want to lose. So that's what people are coming to really see. It's not us kind of doing cartwheels. It's about me serving 130 on the line.

Inbox

Bonnie D. Ford will be on the grounds at the Australian Open for the two-week event. She'll have firsthand knowledge of everything that's transpiring on the grounds Down Under. E-mail Bonnie your comments, questions and predictions to bonniedford@aol.com.