Australian Open 2013: Scorching-Hot Players to Keep an Eye on in Melbourne

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2013

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 14:  Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a forehand in her first round match against Olga Puchkova of Russia during day one of the 2013 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 14, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova is playing lights out tennis in Melbourne this January, proving to be hotter than the Australian summer sun.

The Russian star has not only beaten her first two opponents at the 2013 Australian Open, but obliterated them. The women's No. 2 seed has won 24-of-24 games to open the year's first Grand Slam event and has done so in just over an hour and a half.

But Sharapova isn't the only scorching-hot player still alive in Melbourne Park. Here we'll break down three players who find themselves on a roll at the perfect time.


Madison Keys

Unseeded American female Madison Keys is just 17 years old but finds herself in the third-round of the Australian Open after stunning No. 30 Tamira Paszek in the second-round on Day 3.

Keys was on fire in her straight-set victory over the Austrian, smashing six aces and crushing 23 winners in all. Despite what her age would suggest, Keys is not without experience at the year's first Grand Slam. She was knocked out in the first-round of the Aussie Open in her first appearance last year at age 16, but that trip to Melbourne Park proved to provide her with invaluable experience that she's already put to use this January.

Making her way into the fourth-round will be a huge challenge, though, as up next for Keys will be No. 5-seeded Angelique Kerber. The good news for the sizzling American is that the 24-year-old Kerber has never been past the third-round at the Aussie Open.


Fernando Verdasco

Spain's Fernando Verdasco looks determined to make up for his disappointing first-round exit at the 2012 Australian Open. The 29-year-old has won his first two matches in Melbourne, defeating David Goffin in a five-set thriller, and making short work of Xavier Malisse most recently in the second-round.

Next up for the veteran, unseeded Kevin Anderson in the third-round on Day 5. Anderson has done well to survive his first two opponents, but don't expect him to be among the final 16 on the men's side after Day 5.

Verdasco is playing tennis at a high level and doing so at the ideal time. He minimized unforced errors on Day 3, and will have boosted confidence the rest of the way after connecting on 26 winners over the final two sets against Malisse. 


Jie Zheng

It hasn't been easy for China's Jie Zheng in Australia this January, but after six hard-fought sets, the unseeded 29-year-old is in the third-round, and one win away from the round of 16.

Her most impressive win came in the second-round on Day 3, when she upset No. 9 Samantha Stosur in three sets, committing 13 fewer unforced errors and cashing in on four of her nine break-point chances in the final set, which she won 7-5.

Zheng made a remarkable run to the semifinals in Australia in 2010, but missed the tourney in 2011 and fell short of the quarters in 2012. But at this point the underrated Zheng is playing with house money and that makes her an incredibly dangerous opponent for No. 18 Julia Goerges in the third-round.


Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter throughout the 2013 Australian Open for more reaction and analysis on the year's first Grand Slam.

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