Former champion Maria Sharapova has made a brisk start in her 15th Australian Open, a 6-0 6-0 winner over qualifier Harriet Dart in 63 minutes.

Opening the 2019 Grand Slam season on Rod Laver Arena, site of her 2008 victory over Ana Ivanovic in the so-called ‘glam slam’, the No.30 seed had too much power and big-match experience for the 22-year-old Brit, playing in just her second Grand Slam main draw.

A full 101 places separate them in the rankings, but on court they were worlds apart. Londoner Dart was playing in her first main-draw match here versus the Russian’s 68th. Not to mention $265,000 career prize money versus Sharapova’s haul of $38 million.

Sharapova had the 2-0 break within seven minutes, crunching her returns off the vulnerable Dart second serve – many of her winners travelling back faster than the delivery. She was detained for three deuces in the fifth game, and shrugged off a time violation to hold for 5-0.

Dart had game point in the eighth game and landed a first serve but pulled a backhand wide in her eagerness to get on the scoreboard. And despite Sharapova gifting her two double-faults in the 11th game, Dart again on game point steered her favourite down-the-backhand wide.

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova
Sharapova wasn’t just powering her shots but winning with drive volleys, drop shots and lobs. Only four times in her career has the 31-year-old lost in the first round at a major – this would not be a fifth. The career Grand Slam winner has struggled since her return from a doping ban in 2017 but looked her ruthless old self on Monday.

Certainly there was precious little mercy for the Londoner, thrilled to be sharing a Grand Slam court with her childhood idol. Dart was seven years old when Sharapova won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old, and told the press she admired her for “the way she holds herself on the court, her presence.” Today she experienced up-close the fearsome competitor.

If ever Sharapova was vulnerable, it was potentially today, coming in with just one completed match since the US Open, a first round at Shenzhen. Dart was at a career-high No.131 ranking, a 7-1 record already compiled in 2019, and excited rather than daunted at taking on the former No.1. But the Russian was firing from the outset, and glad to leave the court before the heat of the day builds.

“It’s been many years since I won the trophy here,” Sharapova reflected post-match. “Despite my opponent not having the best day, I still had to get the job done today. I love what I do, I love competing and challenging myself to get better.

“The youngsters are coming up – but not yet.”

Next up for Sharapova is Swede Rebecca Peterson, with a potential third-round clash against defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.

Source: Suzi Petkovski