It was in Australia one year ago when Sloane Stephens shocked the tennis world by upsetting third-seeded Serena Williams to advance to the semi-finals. Like many great moments in sports, I remember exactly where I was when it happened. I was on my couch, probably eating something unhealthy, watching it on live TV. It was a Tuesday night. And that's when Sloane Stephens got me hooked on Sloane Stephens.
Sloane makes her return to the Aussie Open stage tonight -- Are we calling it tonight or today in Australia? -- against Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan. If the match is anything like Shvedova's middle name, Vyacheslavovna, it's going to be long and very difficult to get through.
Other matches on my must-watch schedule tonight:
James Duckworth vs. (6) Roger Federer
Meeting for the first time in their careers, Roger Federer and wildcard entrant James "Jack" Duckworth of Australia are set to clash in the second match of the day in Rod Laver Arena. I'll make a point to watch this one because it's Roger Federer and only because it's Roger Federer. I watch him every chance I get because we just don't know how much longer he'll be around.
Johanna Larsson vs. (2) Victoria Azarenka
Did you know she was driving a tram with Novak Djokovic a couple days ago or that she met SpongeBob SquarePants in Brisbane? Of course you didn't. Because you're not close like we are. I bet you didn't see that smiley face omelet back in the summer, either. You don't know vichka35 like that.
So I'll be watching my vichka35 in action tonight, whether you do or not. It may be a one-sided friendship, and she may not have any idea I exist, but I'm going to be there for her as she chases a third consecutive Australian Open title. No woman has done that since Martina Hingis in 1997-99, ya know.
Tobias Kamke vs. Jack Sock
This is the one time I will root for Germany over America. When Jack Sock loses, The Outer Courts wins.
I want to like Jack Sock, I really do. But I'm afraid that's impossible.
(24) Andreas Seppi vs. Lleyton Hewitt
Australian No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt is looking to ride the momentum from an undefeated week at Brisbane against 24th-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy. Hewitt and Seppi are 3-3 head-to-head over their careers but Hewitt enters the match 5-0 in 2014 while Seppi looks for his first win of the year.
It's Hewitt's 18th consecutive Australian Open start since his 1997 debut. He said that first match, a three-set loss to Sergi Bruguera, was the only time he hasn't played on Melbourne Park's center stage.
We have to watch the Aussie in Aussie, right?
Olga Govortsova vs. Ying-Ying Duan
I have Olga going far in my Racquet Bracket for TennisChannel.com so there is a lot riding on this otherwise lackluster showdown.
Why the faith in Olga, you ask?
Why not? She's my Florida Gulf Coast basketball.
(1) Rafael Nadal vs. Bernard Tomic
This is one of the matches that caught everyone's attention when the draw was released on Friday. Australia's own Bernard Tomic, a top 60 ATP player, versus Rafael Nadal, the world No. 1, in a first round matchup.
Tomic recently said he can beat top-seeded Nadal, who has reached only two Aussie Open finals in his eight attempts, a low number for the game's hottest name. Nadal missed last year's tournament while recovering from the knee injury, but 2013 was his year after his return to the court in February.
It's going to be a fun night -- or day in Australia.