Maria Sharapova served up a 6-0, 6-0 “double bagel” to Britain’s Harriet Dart while Sloane Stephens cruised past fellow American Taylor Townsend to end her Australian Open hoodoo and advance to the second round in the Australian Open first round Monday.
In the night session, sefending champion Caroline Wozniacki’s bid to retain her crown began with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium.
The third seed won her maiden Slam at Melbourne Park last year and is bidding to become the first woman to defend the title since Victoria Azarenka in 2013. The Dane comfortably eased past world number 52 Van Uytvanck, showing no outward sign of rheumatoid arthritis, the debilitating auto-immune disease that has threatened to derail her career.
Second seed Angelique Kerber brushed aside Slovenia’s Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-2 to power into the second round Monday. The Wimbledon champion produced a clinical display to launch her campaign at Melbourne Park, where she won the title in 2016.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova strolled into the second round with a straight sets win over Magdelena Rybarikova of Slovakia. The Czech eighth seed struggled with her serve early in the match before finding her rhythm for a 6-3, 6-2 victory.
The gulf in class between Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam winner, and world number 92 Hercog was apparent as the German took an early break then rattled past her opponent in 72 minutes.
The 28-year-old has been in strong form leading into the season-opening Grand Slam, winning last week’s Sydney International and will next play Irina-Camelia Begu.
Meanwhile, Greece’s Maria Sakakari stunned 22nd seed Jelena Ostapenko 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.
Sharapova, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2008 who has failed to impress at Grand Slam level since returning from a doping ban in 2017, signalled her intent with the thrashing. Playing in her 15th Australian Open, the three-time finalist said she was pleased to go through so easily as she battles back from injuries.
“It was a good test for my leg, for my shoulder,” she said. “I’m 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.”
Fifth seeded Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion who struggled in her warm-up tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney, got back to business against fellow American Townsend in a 6-4, 6-2 win.
The 25-year-old exited in the first round in 2015, 2016 and 2018, and also missed 2017 with a foot injury.
Stephens initially stumbled to go down a service break but immediately broke back to take the first set after 32 minutes. She was in control of the second set from the offset, serving strongly and hitting accurate returns to run Townsend around in the heat.
The only wobble came when she struggled to close out the match, blowing four match points on Townsend’s serve before going on to claim victory off her own racquet.
Eleventh seed Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus also safely negotiated round one on a day when temperatures were soaring towards a forecast 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit).
But Germany’s 14th seed Julia Goerges, who won the recent Auckland Classic, crashed out in three sets to American Danielle Collins.
Britain’s Katie Boulter, meanwhile, created a slice of history by becoming the first woman to win in a third set tiebreak -– a new rule introduced to the Open this year.
Instead of playing to the death, third or fifth sets now go to a tie-break when the score reaches 6-6 and it becomes the first to 10.
It seemed Boulter wasn’t told, fist-pumping and walking to the net at 7/4 before being reminded of the new rule. She went on to beat Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (10/6).
Belinda Bencic (SUI) bt Katerina Siniakova (CZE) 6-4, 2-6, 6-3
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) bt Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE x32) 6-4, 7-6 (7/1)
Lesya Tsurenko (UKR x24) bt Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) 6-4, 7-6 (7/4)
Amanda Anisimova (USA) bt Monica Niculescu (ROU) 7-6 (7/3), 6-4
Katie Boulter (GBR) bt Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (10/6)
Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x11) bt Anna Kalinskaya (RUS) 6-1, 6-4
Yafan Wang (CHN) bt Ellen Perez (AUS) 6-4, 6-0
Astra Sharma (AUS) bt Priscilla Hon (AUS) 7-5, 4-6, 6-1
Maria Sakkari (GRE) bt Jelena Ostapenko (LAT x22) 6-1, 3-6, 6-2
Maria Sharapova (RUS x30) bt Harriet Dart (GBR) 6-0, 6-0
Rebecca Peterson (SWE) bt Sorana Cirstea (ROU) 6-4, 6-1
With inputs from AFP