Australian Open

Maria Sharapova victorious in return to Australian Open

Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates after she won over Germany's Tatjana Maria during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Vincent Thian/Associated press
Maria Sharapova celebrates after she defeating Tatjana Maria in straight sets in their first-round match in Melbourne, Australia.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova marked her return to the Australian Open with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Germany’s Tatjana Maria in the first round.

Sharapova was suspended from the tour for 15 months after testing positive for the drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open. She made her return to the tour last April, but didn’t contest her first Grand Slam tournament until the US Open, where she reached the fourth round.

Sharapova, now ranked 48th, is one of two former Australian Open champions in the women’s field, alongside Angelique Kerber. Sharapova won the tournament in 2008 and has reached the final on three other occasions.


‘‘I've got shivers,’’ Sharapova said of playing again at Melbourne Park. ‘‘It means a lot to me. I cherish these moments.’’

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Earlier, Kerber continued her resurgent run with a 6-0, 6-4 win over fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam. Kerber raced through the first set in 17 minutes but had her struggles in the second. She was broken twice before converting her second match point and extending her streak to 10 consecutive wins.

Kerber will celebrate her 30th birthday Thursday, when she has a second-round match against either Nao Habino or Donna Vekic.

‘‘The year starts good — I'm just hoping to continue this.’’

Angelique Kerber makes a backhand return during her straight-set win over Anna-Lena Friedsam during their first-round match in Melbourne, Australia.
Andy Brownbill/Associated press
Angelique Kerber makes a backhand return during her straight-set win over Anna-Lena Friedsam during their first-round match in Melbourne, Australia.

She opened the year by winning four singles matches at the Hopman Cup, where Germany lost the final to Switzerland, and won the Sydney International last week for her first title since the 2016 US Open.


Kerber made her major breakthrough two years ago in Australia, where she beat Serena Williams in the final, and went on to reach the Wimbledon final and win the US Open in a year when she rose to No. 1.

Her ranking slid into the 20s in 2017, but she’s coming back into the kind of form that makes her a title contender at Melbourne Park.

‘‘I'm just enjoying it on court again,’’ Kerber said. ‘‘Something is going on with Australia and me. I love this country — I enjoy my stay, play my best tennis.

In other Day 2 action, No. 9 Johanna Konta of Britain beat Madison Brengle, 6-3, 6-1, handing the United States a 10th loss in 11 first-round women’s matches.

The first-round upsets included Venus Williams, US Open champion Sloane Stephens, and CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist here and at the US Open last year.


Konta will next meet Bernarda Pera, a Croatian-born American who lives in New Jersey. Pera, a lucky loser in the qualifying tournament, registered the second win by an American woman when she beat Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova, 6-2, 6-2.

Bernarda Pera, a lucky loser in the qualifying tourney, won her first-round match in Melbourne, Australia.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Bernarda Pera, a lucky loser in the qualifying tourney, won her first-round match in Melbourne, Australia.

Pera lost in the final round of qualifying and only got into the tournament Monday when Margarita Gasparyan withdrew with a shoulder injury.

The 23-year-old Pera on her biggest paycheck at a Challenger-level title last July in the Czech Republic and later that night was hospitalized after having a bad reaction to the pasta dish she ate for dinner. Pera is allergic to chicken, seafood, and turkey, among other foods.

‘‘I couldn’t feel my legs, I couldn’t feel my hands. I couldn’t move,’’ she said. ‘‘It was really bad.’’

Pera has only seen Konta play on television, so she’s a little unsure what to expect.

‘‘I have to watch some YouTube videos,’’ she said.

Barbora Strycova’s 6-1, 7-5 win over wild-card entry Kristie Ahn made it 2-12 for the US women with two yet to play.

Former No. 1-ranked Karolina Pliskova, the 2016 US Open finalist, opened with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Veronica Cepede Royg; No. 8 Caroline Garcia beat Carina Witthoft, 7-5, 6-3; and No. 29 Lucie Safarova defeated Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-5, 6-3.

Jack Sock, the highest ranked of the American men, lost on Day 1, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-3 to Yuichi Sugita, while John Isner lost to Australian journeyman Matt Ebden and qualifier Kevin King lost to No. 15 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Not everyone found the going tough.

Rafael Nadal was a bright spot during Day 1 in Melbourne with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory.
Rafael Nadal was a bright spot during Day 1 in Melbourne with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov opened with routine wins, as did second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki and No. 4 Elina Svitolina on the women’s side.

Nadal, returning from time out with a sore right knee, had a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 win over 37-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos in a night match played at the same time as local hope Nick Kyrgios beat Rogerio Dutra Silva, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal, matching the muscle-exposing Nike tank top with neon pink shorts, wristbands and headband, found his championship form again at Melbourne Park.

Nadal had been forced him to withdraw from the ATP Finals in November due to a lingering right knee injury, and when the pain persisted, he also pulled out of a season-opening exhibition event in Abu Dhabi and his first tournament in Brisbane.

With only a few exhibition matches last week to test his form, Nadal had doubts he'd be ready to go in time for the first major of the year. But a dominant performance against Estrella Burgos — he had 28 winners and saved five of six break points he faced — left him feeling positive about his start in Melbourne.

‘‘If I don’t feel myself ready, I will not be here. So I am happy to be here, happy that I'm on court again,’’ he said.

No. 6 Marin Cilic, No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 23 Gilles Muller, No. 24 Diego Schwartzman, No. 28 Damir Dzumhur, No. 30 Andrei Rublev and No. 31 Pablo Cuevas also advanced.

US Open finalist and No. 11-seeded Kevin Anderson lost in five sets to Kyle Edmund.

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko started with a 6-1, 6-4 win over 37-year-old Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open winner. Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig saved a match point before recovering for a win over former US Open champion Sam Stosur.

Other seeded players falling included No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist, No. 25 Peng Shuai, and No. 31 Ekaterina Makarova.