Weekend Sport: Five sporty things to watch (January 18-20)

OPINION: Even the hardiest of tennis fans have found the Aussie Open hard yakka at times.

Saturday, January 19


Australian Open
All weekend, Melbourne

Midway through the year's first tennis Grand Slam, most of the big names are still alive - Federer, Djokovic and Nadal in the men's draw, Serena and Halep among the women.

As the singles move into the third round, seeds start to converge. Perhaps the most intriguing women's clash on Saturday sees world number one Halep up against seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams.

Novak Djokovic plays a backhand
Novak Djokovic plays a backhand at the Australian Open. Photo credit: Reuters.

Among the men, watch out for world number one Novak Djokovic against Canadian up-and-comer Denis Shapovalov.

From an NZ perspective, most interest will again centre on doubles, where Kiwis Michael Venus and Marcus Daniell are drawn against each other in the second round.

Could be another late, late night.


Sunday, January 20


Silver Ferns vs Australia
5:30am (NZ time), London

The days of setting an early alarm to watch New Zealand battle the old foe on a netball court are probably gone - for now, anyway.

We're eight games and only two wins into the Noeline Taurua era, and two of those losses are by record margins to England, including the 13-goal capitulation in their Quad Series opener on Monday.

The new coach has wielded the axe fairly freely, but obviously this rebuild is a much bigger challenge than first anticipated.

Since their shock defeat at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Australia have bounced back well, toppling the English to win the southern Quad Series and also retaining the Constellation Cup.

Casey Kopua directs traffic
Casey Kopua directs traffic for the Silver Ferns. Photo credit: Photosport

New Zealand took a game off the Diamonds in that trans-Tasman series, so it's not a completely lost cause.

And if they can't handle the Aussies this time, there's always South Africa early Monday morning. Sigh!  

University of Virginia vs Duke University
Noon (NZ time), Durham, North Carolina

If you know nothing else about US college basketball this year, you should know the name Zion Williamson, the Duke power forward who has been heralded as the second coming of LeBron James.

NBA teams are already salivating over the prospect of drafting him later this year and he certainly has a complete package of skills that should see him make an immediate impact in the pros.

Duke (14-2) are perennial contenders at college level and have two other players projected for the draft's top five picks, but they come up against unbeaten Virginia (16-0), coached by former North Harbour Vikings import Tony Bennett and co-captained by Tall Blacks centre Jack Salt.

Kiwi Jack Salt & NBA prospect Zion Williamson
Kiwi Jack Salt & NBA prospect Zion Williamson. Photo credit: Reuters.

You might have to dig out an on-line stream of the game, but this will be an absolute must-watch for Kiwi hoops fans.

Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne Victory
7pm (NZ time), Melbourne

If you're on the A-League bandwagon, this could be where the dream crashes to a halt for the Nix.

After meticulously compiling an eight-game unbeaten streak over the past couple of months, they now face second-placed Victory on the road.

This will be a true test of their newfound belief, but not an insurmountable one - the two sides drew in Melbourne on December 28, extending Wellington's run to five games at that time.

Wellington Phoenix import Cillian Sheridan
Wellington Phoenix import Cillian Sheridan. Photo credit: Photosport

Striker Roy Krishna is particularly hot right now, scoring four goals over the last two outings, both 3-2 wins over Western Sydney and Central Coast.

Phoenix are well entrenched in the top-six playoff picture, sitting fifth and 10 points clear of seventh-placed Newcastle.

Dare to dream.


Monday, January 21


NFL Conference Finals
New Orleans Saints vs LA Rams (9am, New Orleans)
Kansas City Chiefs vs New England Patriots (12:40pm, Kansas City)

This is it - the American football season has come down to four teams, with this week's winners moving on to the Super Bowl.

Both conference finals loom as mouth-watering showdowns between youth and experience.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Saints counterpart Drew Brees are both on the wrong side of 40, and with Super Bowl titles - five for Brady - already under their belts, their legacies in the game are secure.

Playoff time is Tom Brady time.
Playoff time is Tom Brady time. Photo credit: Reuters.

They may yet face off in the finale, but must first overcome a couple of young whippersnappers in Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) and Jared Goff (Rams).

New Orleans and Los Angeles tied for the NFL's best record (13-4), with the Rams taking their regular-season meeting. New England (11-5) overcame Kansas City (12-4) previously.

Grant Chapman is Newshub on-line sports editor.