Melbourne | Sharapova and Kerber safe as Kvitova falls
Day 2 of the Aussie Open placed rather less stress on the women’s seeds, who mostly secured their second round slots with relative ease.
So too did two former champions, Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber, who wasted little time on court.
I have expectations because of my previous results in my career But I'm also realistic, and the process of coming back takes time. I keep building and learning. Maria Sharapova
They both turned on the style to sweep aside their respective opponents as the temperatures heated up in Melbourne.
If the on-court welcome for Sharapova was a tad luke-warm, her victorious departure was way more boisterous.
The Russian, who is still working her way back from a 15-month ban for taking the performance-enhancing substance meldonium, showed glimpses of the form that made her a five-time major winner.
“I felt like I have got a lot of things out of the way physically and emotionally and mentally last year,” said Sharapova, who only returned to Grand Slam action at the US Open, where she reached the last 16.
“[In 2017] there was a lot of firsts again for me, playing the first tournament, first Grand Slam, and just different feelings and what it would be routinely.
“But it felt pretty routine today, just really happy to be back here.”
The 2008 AO champion, now ranked 48, battled past Germany’s Tatjana Maria, 6-1 6-4, and will next play 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, who dispatched the American, Varvara Lepchenko, 3-6 6-3 6-2.
“I cherish these moments. I love it here,” said Sharapova, who returned from her drugs ban in April last year.
“It’s been a couple of years and I wanted it to be really meaningful to me. But we know it’s only going to get tougher.”
On paper this should have been a close match, but the gulf in class and experience between Sharapova, who has won 36 singles titles, and the 30-year-old German currently ranked one place above her and yet to register a WTA title, was evident from the opening exchanges.
The Russian hardly looked back after racing into a 2-0 lead, holding her own serve to love and then breaking the German three times with ease to take the first set 6-1 in 32 minutes.
Maria found her service range at the start of the second and briefly led 3-1 before the unseeded Russian cranked up the decibel meter and broke back with a flurry of forehand winners.
Sharapova broke again, closing out the win with a booming ace and a huge smile for the rapturous crowd on Margaret Court Arena.
“I have expectations because of my previous results in my career But I’m also realistic, and the process of coming back takes time,” she said. “I keep building and learning.”
Fellow former World No 1 Kerber, who won the tournament in 2016, was also impressive in dismissing compatriot Anna-Lena Friedsam, 6-0 6-4.
“2017, I have said goodbye already, I am not looking back,” she said after a forgettable last season that saw her relinquish her number one status and plummet down the rankings.
Kerber has made an unbeaten start to the season under new coach Wim Fissette, winning four singles matches at the Hopman Cup and then claiming the Brisbane International title.
“I’m not trying to focus too much on what’s ahead, on the past, or what’s happened in the last year,” she said. “I’m just trying to really restart again and try to enjoy my tennis again.”
Kerber will celebrate her 30th birthday on Thursday with a match against Donna Vekic in the next round.
Sixth seed Karolina Pliskova began with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Veronica Cepede Royg while there were also victories for top-10 seeds Caroline Garcia and Johanna Konta.
The losing streak of American players continued with Madison Brengle’s loss to Konta, 6-3 6-1, while Shelby Rogers and Lepchenko joined the ranks of the departed.
Konta next plays Croatian-born American Bernarda Pera, 23, who beat Anna Blinkova 6-2 6-2 for her first win at a Grand Slam event.
Pera lost in the final round of qualifying and got into the tournament when Margarita Gasparyan withdrew because of a shoulder injury.
Another American victory came to Madison Keys, the US Open runner-up, who moved into the second round with a 6-1 7-5 win over Wang Qiang.
Top-seeded Simona Halep overcame an injured left ankle to beat wild-card entry Destanee Aiava, 7-6(5) 6-1, in an hour and 51 minutes.
The World No 1 had to come from 2-5 and a set point down against the Australian teenager to win a dramatic first-round match in which both needed on-court medical attention.
Halep had fallen at the first hurdle in the past two years at Melbourne Park and another shock was beckoning when the big-hitting Australian took a early lead, buoyed by rowdy home supporters.
“She was a very tough opponent,” said the relieved Romanian after the match.
“She’s very talented and powerful. She reminds me a little bit of Serena Williams.”
The fearless teenager’s charge in the first set of her first appearance on Rod Laver Arena came to a dramatic halt, however, when she called for a medical timeout at the change of ends, complaining of breathing problems.
After her blood pressure and pulse were taken she departed for further treatment and, on her return, she managed to get to set point on the Romanian’s serve but, once Halep held, the tide turned.
Aiava was still dazed and even tried to change ends at 5-3 in her confused state until the umpire gently ushered her back.
Halep showed little of the form which helped her to the Shenzhen title two weeks ago but used all her experience to extend the rallies and force the ailing Australian to dig deep.
Eventually forcing a tiebreak to finally squeeze over the finish line 7-5, Halep snatched the marathon first set after 73 minutes.
She raced to a 2-0 lead to start the second when there was more drama as Halep rolled her ankle chasing down a backhand and fell to the ground needing immediate attention from the physio.
She returned to the court with her right ankle taped and immediately broke Aiava for 3-0, a moment greeted by almost silence from the home supporters. It was all over bar the shouting.
“I have a little injury so I don’t know how it is going to be,” Halep said of her ankle. “But it was a nice atmosphere out here even though you were all supporting her.”
She now faces a Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, a former semi-finalist in Melbourne and Roland Garros, and a finalist at Wimbledon in 2014.
Bouchard, now ranked No112 is mainly in the news for reasons other than her tennis these days, won her first WTA match since August when she beat American Lauren Davis in New Haven.
Although she smashed Aiava at the Kooyong exhibition last week, this impressive 6-3 7-6(5) win over 21-year-old Frenchwoman Oceane Dodinwin ended a streak of six straight losses in WTA singles competition.
Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza booked her second-round berth with a win over French wildcard Jessika Ponchet.
The two-time Grand Slam champion has been under an injury cloud but came through 6-4 6-3.
The 24-year-old won her first match at the Sydney International but then withdrew with a hip problem.
She wore heavy strapping on her injured right thigh and laboured at times, taking an hour and 24 minutes to quell the virtually unknown 21-year-old French World No 256.
Muguruza said before her match she was hoping to be pain-free to begin her Australian Open campaign, but her mobility was clearly hampered and she looked anything but fully fit against Ponchet.
A quarter-finalist in Melbourne last year, the Spaniard dropped her first service game but from there battled back to take the first set in 43 minutes.
“It wasn’t easy. I didn’t know anything about her,” said Muguruza of her opponent, who was making her first main draw appearance in a WTA event, let alone a Grand Slam.
“She’s super talented. Serves and volleys, so I had to stay very concentrated.”
The Wimbledon champion had a problematic start to the year, pulling out of the Sydney International to protect her right thigh after a week earlier retiring from the Brisbane International with severe cramps.
Her bad luck almost continued when she clutched her left knee as her shoe stuck awkwardly in the court at 2-2, 30-30 in the second set, bringing gasps from the Margaret Court Arena crowd.
She recovered to outlast Ponchet in a game that went to a marathon six deuces, taking a break of serve and then breaking again to seal the win.
Muguruza next faces Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei, who prevailed in a see-saw match against China’s Zhu Lin 0-6, 6-0 8-6.
The two-time Grand Slam winner is in the same half of the draw as Halep and is projected to face another Frenchwoman, number eight seed Caroline Garcia, in the quarters.
Late in the afternoon, Petra Kvitova lost a marathon match to Germany’s Andrea Petkovic.
The two-time Wimbledon champion’s return to the Australian Open a year after being attacked by an intruder at her home ended in disappointment, 6-3 4-6 10-8.
A former quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park, Kvitova missed last year’s event as she recovered from surgery to her left hand, which was injured by a knife-wielding assailant weeks before the tournament.
Kvitova showed she was back to a level approaching her dominant best with a last-eight appearance at the US Open, but her clash with former top-10 player Petkovic ended in heartbreak after she double-faulted on match point when serving at 5-4 in the third set on Show Court Two.
Petkovic saved another match point with a forehand winner to level at 5-5 and fought back from another break down.
Serving to stay in the contest, 27th seed Kvitova suffered an attack of nerves, missing a straightforward volley before surrendering the match with her 10th double-fault and sixth of the set.
The crowd groaned in disappointment, while Petkovic roared in triumph and Czech Kvitova walked off to warm applause in the twilight.
“I just thought about not thinking and it worked,” Petkovic said of holding on during the nervous finish.