MELBOURNE: Second seed Maria Sharapova started her Australian Open campaign in emphatic fashion yesterday, crushing Croatian Petra Martic in straight sets to send an ominous warning to her rivals.
The Russian five-time grand slam champion can regain the coveted number one ranking from arch-rival Serena Williams if she wins a second title at Melbourne Park and was all business as she downed Martic 6-4, 6-1 on a day which saw eight women’s seeds depart.
The 27-year-old said she was benefitting from a strong lead-in to the season-opening Grand Slam, when she won the Brisbane International. “I made a few too many unforced errors but overall I’m glad I got through,” said Sharapova. “She was a tough opponent and was really inspired.”
Sharapova will now face compatriot Alexandra Panova in the second round.
In other women’s fixtures, third seed Simona Halep advanced to the second round after defeating Italy’s Karin Knapp 6-3, 6-2, while fifth seed Ana Ivanovic crashed out after an upset by unheralded world number 142 Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic.
Highly-rated Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, who made the US Open quarter-finals last year, was another early casualty as she lost 6-2, 6-1 to world number 73 Julia Goerges of Germany.
And Australian Jarmila Gajdosova finally broke a demoralising run at her home Grand Slam on winning an opening round game for the first time in 10 years.
She cleared the hurdle by beating Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru 6-3, 6-4 and said the relief was so great it felt like winning the final.
Federer beats Lu in opener
Swiss world number two Roger Federer defeated Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Shun in straight sets.
Federer, who is gunning for his fifth title at Melbourne Park, won 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 and will play Italian Simone Bolelli in the second round.
“I thought it was played at a really good level, it was a tough match and I had to step it up,” said Federer.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal went some of the way to easing his nagging doubts with an uncomplicated opening straight sets victory over Russian journeyman Mikhail Youzhny.
The Spanish world number three downed Youzhny 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in one hour 50 minutes and will next play American qualifier Tim Smyczek.
Another big gun, Andy Murray, aiming to end his heartbreak run at the Australian Open, overcame India’s Yuki Bhambri 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) in two hours 13 minutes to set up a second-round encounter with volatile local Marinko Matosevic.
And, rising star Grigor Dimitrov was fast out of the blocks and carved a quick kill of first-round opponent Dustin Brown in straight sets – 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 – while Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych blew away Alejandro Falla 6-3, 7-6 (7/1), 6-3.
Other winners included Australian Bernard Tomic, South African 14th seed Kevin Anderson and French 24th seed Richard Gasquet.