16th January, 2018
Maria Sharapova on Tuesday resumed her career at the Australian Open in bright sunshine with a performance that went some way to banishing those demons.
The 30-year-old former champion returned a positive doping test after a quarter-final defeat by Serena Williams in 2016, resulting in a 15-month ban from the sport.
Sharapova was in dominant mood as she beat Germany’s Tatjana Maria 6-1 6-4 on Margaret Court Arena.
There would be tougher tests to come for the five-times Grand Slam champion.
But the relish with which she pummelled 22 winners suggests that in her second Grand Slam event since returning from exile, she could do damage, despite not being seeded.
Sharapova, who fell foul of the anti-doping regulations after failing to realise that heart drug meldonium had been added to the WADA prohibited list, attracted more unwanted headlines last week.
That was when she was selected for the draw ceremony.
That decision by tournament director Craig Tiley raised a few disapproving eyebrows.
But there was plenty of support for the 2008 champion on Tuesday with regular shouts of “C‘mon Masha, we’ve missed you”.
After ending fellow 30-year-old Maria’s dogged second-set resistance with an ace, Sharapova admitted she had “shivers” walking on to court.
Later, when addressing the media, it was very much business as usual with Sharapova reluctant to talk about the past.
Asked if her return to Melbourne had produced flashbacks to that fateful day two years ago, she said: “No. It’s not the way I look at things moving forward.”
Sharapova struck the ball with venom in the first set in which the only blemish was dropping serve to give Maria a game.
The second set threatened to get a little tricky as Sharapova was broken to love to trail 1-3.
But a forehand winner gave her break point in the next game and she converted it when Maria went wide.
Sharapova broke again at 3-3 as her opponent, actually ranked a place higher at 47, double-faulted and Sharapova moved into a 5-3 lead as Maria began to feel the strain.
The German managed to prolong the contest for another game but Sharapova finished off the match in style.
She belted a forehand winner at 30-30 and then aimed a searing first serve bang on the line.