SHARA­POVA OPENS SLAM BY SHUT­TING OUT QUAL­I­FIER

Daily Press - - Sports - As­so­ci­ated Press

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia — Some ten­nis ob­servers have come to be­lieve Maria Shara­pova is past her prime, but she cer­tainly looked in ex­cel­lent form as she be­gan the two-week Aus­tralian Open.

Shara­pova got out of the Mel­bourne heat as quickly as she could, need­ing just 63 min­utes to beat British qual­i­fier Har­riet Dart 6-0, 6-0 in the first match on Rod Laver Arena.

Shara­pova, who wore an ice col­lar dur­ing breaks to help al­le­vi­ate the 86-de­gree tem­per­a­ture, was mak­ing her 15th ap­pear­ance at the sea­son-open­ing ma­jor.

The only break point Shara­pova faced was when she dou­ble­faulted in the fifth game of the sec­ond set.

Dart, who de­scribed Shara­pova as her idol be­fore the match, lost in the first round at Wim­ble­don last year after be­ing given a wild card in her only pre­vi­ous Grand Slam sin­gles ap­pear­ance.

The 22-year-old Dart had a game point on her serve in the eighth game of the match, but Shara­pova ral­lied to break the British player and con­tinue the rout.

An­other British player, Heather Wat­son, also lost early on day one, beaten 6-1, 6-2 by 31st-seeded Pe­tra Mar­tic.

Gritty Danielle Collins, 25, a two-time NCAA sin­gles cham­pion with the Vir­ginia Cava­liers, posted her first match vic­tory in a ma­jor. She ral­lied past Ger­many’s Ju­lia Go­erges 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.

Great Bri­tain’s Katie Boul­ter made a bit of his­tory, up­end­ing Rus­sian left-han­der Elena Makarova 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (10-6). Boul­ter be­came the win­ner of the first ma­jor sin­gles match to fea­ture an ex­tended tiebreak.

Shara­pova was the first of five for­mer cham­pi­ons play­ing on Rod Laver Arena on day one.

Rafael Nadal, who won his only

Aus­tralian ti­tle in 2009, was play­ing James Duck­worth at press time, fol­lowed by 2016 win­ner An­gelique Ker­ber against Polona Hercog.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Caro­line Woz­ni­acki was sched­uled to play Ali­son Van Uty­vanck to start the night ses­sion, fol­lowed by six­time Aus­tralian cham­pion Roger Fed­erer’s match against De­nis Is­tomin.

The night ses­sion on cen­ter court was set to be­gin with a cer­e­mony hon­or­ing the man him­self, Rod Laver, on the an­niver­sary of his sec­ond Grand Slam of sin­gles ma­jors in 1969.

A women’s fi­nal last year fea­tur­ing two play­ers aim­ing for their first Grand Slam ti­tle fin­ished with Woz­ni­acki hold­ing off top-ranked Si­mona Halep for the cham­pi­onship.

Fed­erer beat Marin Cilic to win the Aus­tralian Open for the sixth time — claim­ing his 20th ma­jor crown — and suc­cess­fully de­fend the ti­tle he won the pre­vi­ous year in a ca­reer come­back of sorts.

At 37, he’s still tar­get­ing records at his record-equal­ing 20th Aus­tralian Open: to be the first man to win seven Aus­tralian Open ti­tles, the first man to win at least seven sin­gles ti­tles at two Grand Slam tour­na­ments (he has eight Wim­ble­don ti­tles), and the first man to win five ma­jor ti­tles after turn­ing 30.

Of course, he’s got strong com­pe­ti­tion from No­vak Djokovic, who has won the last two ma­jors and is also aim­ing for a sev­enth Aus­tralian ti­tle. Then there’s a resur­gent Nadal and the likes of Cilic and Sasha Zverev.

But there’s un­likely to be an­other run to the fi­nal for Andy Mur­ray, who wants to start a tour­na­ment where he has reached the fi­nal five times but is un­sure how much longer he can play be­cause of the pain in his sur­gi­cally re­paired right hip. He’s tar­get­ing re­tire­ment at Wim­ble­don, if he can go that far.

Mur­ray was to take on No. 22-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut on Mel­bourne Arena — the third of the three show courts at Mel­bourne Park.

AARON FAVILA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rus­sia’s Maria Shara­pova serves to British qual­ifer Har­riet Dart dur­ing their 6-0, 6-0 first-round match at the Aus­tralian Open in Mel­bourne.

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