SHARAPOVA OPENS SLAM BY SHUTTING OUT QUALIFIER
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.
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.