Former World No.1 Maria Sharapova was in emphatic form to kick off play at the 2019 Australian Open. Despite warm conditions, she breezed through a first round clash with Harriet Dart, 6-0, 6-0 on Rod Laver Arena.
“I think it was a good test for my leg, for my shoulder,” Sharapova said in her post-match press conference. “Obviously the shoulder hasn’t been much of a secret in the past year. That’s been something I have been struggling with why I had to shut down the season after the US Open.
“I’m still not where I want it to be, still working through some painful days. But, you know, I felt like I did all the right things today in order to get through that match.”
Sharapova captured the Daphne Akhurst Trophy back in 2008, and since reached the final in 2012 and 2015. Starting the year at the Shenzhen Open, she was forced to retire due to injury against eventual champion Aryna Sabalenka.
Looking to regain a foothold on the game’s biggest stage, the No.30 seed needed just 63 minutes to dismiss the British qualifier, who was making her Australian Open main draw debut.
“When you’re playing the first round of a Grand Slam, and I have been in many positions, like last year at Wimbledon, I came out against a qualifier that played really well. There is no doubt that my level wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but she was there to take the match.
“So I’m not so much worried about my opponent, but I have to step up when the time is right and when I need to, so that’s my main goal.”
The Russian struck a stellar 20 winners to just 16 unforced errors, overwhelming Dart into 21 errors of her own as she raced through the opening four games without a single deuce.
Dart began to push Sharapova on serve, but the five-time Grand Slam champion remained undaunted, holding and breaking once more to move within a set of victory.
“I was just focused on not having a letdown. I think it’s very easy to be in a position where things are flowing, you’re doing all the right things, she’s making a few errors, you’re comfortable, it’s easy to get complacent.”
Breaking serve to start the second set, she survived another long service game at 4-0 – saving two break points to get Dart on the board – and engineered a trio of match points, converting the third to book her spot in the second round.
“I still really have the passion for this. I enjoy seeing the effort that I’m able to put in, and I think that hard work will always ultimately come to the surface, in tennis or something else. But I do feel that it’s really shaped the way that my career has been in and my life has been. If I put an effort into a certain category, sometimes it doesn’t come overnight, doesn’t come in a year, and sometimes it comes in something else in your life, and I believe in that.
“The way I handle my career today is the way I’ll handle my life in 10, 20 years, and that’s extremely important to me.”
Up next for Sharapova is Swedish youngster Rebecca Peterson, who was similarly speeding in dismissing Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, 6-4, 6-1. Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki looms as a possible third round opponent.
“I still have to play another match, and so does she. My coach is Swedish. I don’t know if that will maybe help me a little bit more. I’ll just get back, watch a few videos, as I always do, study it a bit, and get out there and play my game.”
Meanwhile, Kiki Bertens, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Donna Vekic were among those advancing.