Thursday, 19 July, 2018

Sharapova finds her groove on Melbourne return

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Shannon Reynolds | 17 January, 2018, 03:57

The Serb, returning from a long break with an elbow injury, plays American Donald Young on Margaret Court Arena. There was a heartfelt cheer - and not a hint of rancour - when she stepped onto the court, and an even louder one when her name was proclaimed by the courtside announcer.

"But it felt pretty routine today".

"I failed a drug test at the Australian Open", Sharapova said at the time.

"I don't really have a position [on the subject] because that was the first time it was mentioned", he said. "I love what I do".

Sharapova batted away questions as to whether it was appropriate she attend. There were a lot of firsts again for me - playing the first tournament, first grand slam, and just different feelings and what it would be routinely. "With that choice I know that I face difficulties and challenges on the court and that I start from no ranking and that I might start on some outside courts, and I understand that and that's part of the process, and I'm here to work through that.

I'm a competitor and that's why I continue to do it".

The Romanian top seed was nearly blown off the court by the big-hitting 17-year-old Melbourne player in the opening stanza, forced to save two set points at 2-5 and come from 1-3 down to rescue the tie-break. "The moment I don't have that anymore will be a moment I won't play".

Caroline Wozniacki, a former world No. 1, grumbled at last year's US Open about playing on outside courts late into the night while Sharapova was featured at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It wasn't quite like that last Thursday night when the Russian superstar was invited to carry in the trophy and speak on behalf of the women players at the televised draw, a decision tournament director Craig Tiley was forced to defend when the global media decided it was a highly inappropriate glorification of a recently convicted drugs offender.

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No. 20 Barbora Strycova's 6-1, 7-5 win over wild-card entry Kristie Ahn and Aliaksandra Sasnovich beat Christina McHale 6-3, 6-2 to make it 2 for 13 for the US women so far. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara ) Britain's Johanna Konta, right, is congratulated by United States' Madison Brengle as she won their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.

Sharapova was a class above in the opening set as she broke in the first game but Maria produced a spirited display in the second.

Sharapova, now ranked 48th, is one of two former Australian Open champions in the women's field, alongside Angelique Kerber.

"I know that nothing will be handed to me or anyone", she said. It's too far to tell. "I'm not overly confident (about winning the tournament) but I have expectations because of the previous results through my career". I have to back off sometimes, and say this will take time.

It's nearly game time for the sport's biggest names.

Madison Keys also reversed a trend, becoming the only one of the four American women who contested the US Open semifinals last September to reach the second round in Australia.

It was just a week ago that his participation in Melbourne looked in doubt after skipping an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and pulling out of Doha as the defending champion.

The five-time major champion said it was her choice to return, though, and she relished every moment of it in Tuesday's 6-1, 6-4 victory over Tatjana Maria.

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