Sharapova Rolls At Aussie Open

Nadal beats wild card Duckworth in 3 sets

Russia's Maria Sharapova hits a forehand return to Britain's Harriet Dart during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova has the second-best record among active players in first-round matches at the majors, and she gave an illustration of why that’s the case with a ruthless 6-0, 6-0 win over Harriet Dart at the Australian Open.

The 2008 Australian Open champion got play started on Rod Laver Arena on Monday and needed only 63 minutes to advance.

In her 15th trip to Melbourne Park and her 55th Grand Slam tournament, she’s acutely aware of the toll that the sun and long early matches can have on a player’s title ambitions, so she gets straight to business.

The 22-year-old Dart, playing in the main draw of a major for only the second time after getting a wildcard to play last year at Wimbledon, only got a look at one break point in the match — when Sharapova served a double-fault in the second set. She got seven of her 29 points from Sharapova’s double-faults.

That was the only real blemish in Sharapova’s stats: She hit 20 winners and won five of her five points at the net.

Sharapova said she was still feeling pain in her right shoulder despite sitting out the end of last season after the U.S. Open.

Stung by a first-round loss at Wimbledon last year, Sharapova said she couldn’t afford to feel any empathy for Dart.

“I mean, there is no time for that, I’m sorry to say … when you’re playing the first round of a Grand Slam,” she said.

“I think I was just focused on not having a letdown.

“I think it’s very easy to be in a position where things are flowing, you know, you’re doing all the right things, she’s making a few errors, you’re comfortable, easy to get complacent, and, you know, complacency is not great. I was glad that I did the right things from the beginning till the end.”

Among players who’ve played at least 10 majors, only 23-time major winner Serena Williams (.986) started the tournament with a better ratio.

Up next for Sharapova is Rebecca Peterson, who beat Sorana Cirstea, 6-4, 6-1.

Among the other seeded players advancing were No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat Anna Kalinskaya 6-1, 6-4, No. 19 Caroline Garcia, No. 29 Donna Vekic and No. 31 Petra Martic.

Danielle Collins advanced to the second round of a major for the first time following a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over No. 14-seeded Julia Goerges, who won the title in Auckland to start the season.

Katie Boulter earned the distinction of winning the first 10-point tiebreaker under the Australian Open’s new system for deciding sets.

Boulter beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (6), including 10-6 in the tiebreaker. The new tiebreaker rule was introduced to ensure games don’t get too lengthy — previously the third set in women’s matches and the fifth set in men’s matches at the Australian Open had to be decided by a two-game advantage.

Fifth-seeded Kevin Anderson won his first match at Melbourne Park since 2015 when he beat Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. Also advancing on the men’s side were No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili and No. 26 Fernando Verdasco.

Sharapova was one of five Australian Open titlists to play on Rod Laver Arena on Day 1. Rafael Nadal, who won his only Australian title in 2009, was set to play James Duckworth, followed by 2016 winner Angelique Kerber against Polona Hercog.

Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki was scheduled to play Alison Van Utyvanck to start the night session, followed by six-time Australian champion Roger Federer’s match against Denis Istomin.

Rafael Nadal wasn’t about to let another Australian wild-card entry beat him at a Grand Slam tournament.

The Spanish left-hander beat No. 238th-ranked James Duckworth 6-4, 6-3, 7-5, his 15th win in 17 matches against wild cards at Grand Slam tournaments.

Nadal’s only previous defeats to wildcard entrants at majors were against American James Blake in the third round of the 2005 U.S. Open and Australian Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2014.

Nadal, wearing a sleeveless top, did an extended left-arm celebratory pump after breaking Duckworth’s serve after two cross-court stunners to lead 4-2 in the third set.

His only stumble as he served for the match and was broken by Duckworth, who got back to 5-4. But Nadal returned the favor, breaking the Australian in the final game of the match.

Nadal has only lost twice in the first round at Grand Slams — to Steve Darcis at 2013 Wimbledon, and to Fernando Verdasco at Melbourne Park in 2016.

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