Australian Open: Maria Sharapova, Rafa Nadal off to flying starts

Maria Sharapova, who’s seeking to end her 11-year title drought at the Australian Open, got her campaign underway with a ruthless 6-0, 6-0 win over debutante, Harriet Dart in just 63 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Sharapova, a champion in 2008, came into the match with just 10 matches under her belt from last season, but looked sharp and found her form at the right time to begin on the front foot and leave her 22-year-old opponent in tears thereafter.

“My opponent not having the best day, I had to get the job done. The youngsters are taking our place, but not just yet,” Sharapova, 31, said courtside. “It’s been many years since I held that trophy here, so it was a privilege to be back on this court.”

Sharapova will next play Swede Rebecca Peterson, who beat Sorana Cirstea, 6-4, 6-1.

Elsewhere, Fifth-seeded American Sloane Stephens ended a three-match losing streak in first-round matches at Melbourne Park with a comfortable 6-4, 6-2 win over her countrywoman Taylor Townsend.

Sloane Stephens dismissed Taylor Townsend to end her 3-match losing streak in first rounds at the Australian Open.

Stephens lost in the first round of the Australian Open in 2015, 2016 and 2018. She missed the 2017 tournament after having foot surgery and went on to win the U.S. Open later the same year.

Second seed, Angelique Kerber made a winning start with a no-nonsense 6-2, 6-2 victory over Polona Hercog, while 2017 French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko suffered a first round exit as she was beaten 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 by Maria Sakkari. 

Meanwhile, in the men’s field, 2009 champion, Rafael Nadal began his quest for a second Australian Open title with a straightforward 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 victory over James Duckworth on Rod Laver Arena.

A title-winning run at the Australian Open will see Rafael Nadal become the first male tennis player to win each Grand Slam at least two times.

Bar his appearance at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in December, Nadal’s first round match was his first competitive encounter since retiring in the semifinals of the US Open in September last year.

“Of course is good news that I am here again,” Nadal said entering the tournament. “Is again another season, coming back from a tough period of time but with highest motivation possible to start another season.”

Nadal will face the winner of the matchup between Jan-Lennard Struff and Matthew Ebden in the second round.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Kevin Anderson was stretched to four sets by Adrian Mannarino, but prevailed 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.

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