|Former world No.1 Maria Sharapova defeated Tatjana Maria 6-1 6-4 on Tuesday in her first match at the Australian Open since the failed drugs test two years ago that rocked the sport|
The 30-year-old former champion, whose positive doping test after a quarter-final defeat by Serena Williams in 2016 resulted in a 15-month ban from the sport, was in dominant mood as she beat Germany’s Tatjana Maria 6-1 6-4 on Margaret Court Arena.
There will be tougher tests to come for the five-times grand slam champion but the relish with which she pummelled 22 winners suggests that in her second grand slam event since returning from exile, she could do damage, despite not being seeded.
Sharapova, who fell foul of the anti-doping regulations after failing to realise that heart drug meldonium had been added to the WADA prohibited list, attracted more unwanted headlines last week when she was selected for the draw ceremony.
That decision by tournament director Craig Tiley raised a few disapproving eyebrows, but there was plenty of support for the 2008 champion on Tuesday with regular shouts of “C’mon Masha, we’ve missed you”.
After ending fellow 30-year-old Maria’s dogged second-set resistance with an ace, Sharapova admitted she had “shivers” walking on to court.
Elsewhere, world number one Simona Halep flirted with another early exit from the Australian Open and suffered an ankle injury before rallying to reach the second round with a 7-6(5) 6-1 victory over local teenager Destanee Aiava.
The Romanian top seed was almost blown off the court by the big-hitting 17-year-old Melburnian in the opening stanza, forced to save two set points at 5-2 down and come from 3-1 down to rescue the tiebreak.
The 26-year-old turned her ankle reaching for a shot at the start of the second but returned with the joint strapped up to claim what was ultimately a comfortable victory.
Johanna Konta skipped past Madison Brengle into the second round on Tuesday, the Briton overpowering her American opponent 6-3 6-1 in 66 minutes on Hisense Arena.
Australia-born Konta, who reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park two years ago, brushed off an early exit in her Sydney International title defence last week with an aggressive display that removed any doubts about her fitness.
The 26-year-old ninth seed hammered down eight aces and 37 winners, feasting on Brengle’s powderpuff serve and converting five of eight break points over the brief contest.
“I am very happy with that match,” said a smiling Konta, who will meet another American, Bernarda Pera, in the second round. “I knew it would be tough, she gets a lot of balls back and makes her opponents work for it.
“So really happy I was able to stick to the style of play I wanted.”
Angelique Kerber has turned the page on a horror 2017 season and is focused firmly on making a fresh start to her career, the German said after sailing into the second round on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old enjoyed a bumper 2016, winning the Australian and US Opens, picking up an Olympic silver medal and becoming the first German number one since Steffi Graf.
Her form, however, deserted her last year when she failed to win back-to-back matches at 13 events and made just one final, at Monterrey, to finish the year at number 22.
“You know, I think last year I will actually not speak about this anymore,” she told reporters after defeating fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-0 6-4 on Hisense Arena.
“I mean, last year was really not the best year, everybody knows, and it was a lot of new experience. But I’m also thankful about all the things, because I think I’m growing.”