MELBOURNE, Australia– Maria Sharapova finished her first match of the year in 55 minutes Monday, cruising to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Olga Puchkova to start proceedings on center court at the Australian Open without showing any signs of trouble with her sore right shoulder.
The No. 2-ranked Sharapova, who lost the final to Victoria Azarenka here last year before going on to win the French Open, faced only two break points in the match and she saved both of those in the first game.
Then she went on a 12-game roll that earned her a second “double bagel” inside a year.
Sharapova has a potential third-round match against Venus Williams, who needed just an hour for her opening 6-1, 6-0 win over Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan.
Williams played with power and determination and took command of the match early with a steady stream of winners and powerful serves.
She skipped last year’s Australian Open because of illness and was warmly welcomed with applause as she entered the court. Venus Williams had the biggest jump of any of the top players in 2012, moving from outside the top 100 to finish the year at No. 24.
Her younger sister, Serena, was sitting in the crowd with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Serena is the strong favorite to win the Australian Open, heading into the tournament with 35 wins in her past 36 matches .
including titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open.
No. 3-ranked Serena Williams is in the top half of the draw with defending champion Victoria Azarenka, and the pair won’t start until Tuesday.
Novak Djokovic starts his bid to be the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles later Monday with a first-round match against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France.
The top-ranked Djokovic shelved the conventional preparations for a while on the weekend, warming up for a shot at a third consecutive Australian title with a bit of weekend hit-and-giggle and a Gangnam Style dance with Serena Williams.
That was for kids’ day, when thousands of people flocked to Rod Laver Arena to see 2012 Australian champions Djokovic and Azarenka hitting in a just-for-fun match with players including past champions Roger Federer and Williams and a cast of human-sized cartoon characters.
From Monday, it’ll be all business. His five-set, 5-hour, 53-minute win over Rafael Nadal in the final last year has already been written into Australian Open folklore, and followed his titles at Melbourne Park in 2008 and 2011.
“This is my most successful Grand Slam. But this Grand Slam is also known for a lot of surprises, players who have been reaching the final stages who are not expected to. We’ll see. The Australian Open always brings something interesting.”