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 centre 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.
Sharapova started her run to the French Open title with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Alexandra Caduntu at Roland Garros last year. But she said the score line wasn’t really relevant.
Sharapova withdrew from the Brisbane International earlier this month with an injured right collarbone, saying she wanted to concentrate on being fit for the season’s first major. She skipped the tournament last year, as well, before going on to reach the Australian Open final.
“After a couple of close games and a few break points, I certainly started to concentrate a bit better,” she said. “I didn’t want to concentrate on the fact I hadn’t played a lot of matches. I just wanted to focus on what was ahead of me and really be aggressive.
“It was one of those matches where I didn’t try to worry about her too much.”
No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska won the last nine straight games in her opening 7-5, 6-0 win over Australian wild-card entry Bojana Bobusic 7-5, 6-0 and 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur beat Chang Kai-chen of Taiwan 7-6 (3), 6-3 to end a run of five losses on home soil.
Sixth-seeded Li Na, who lost the Australian Open final before winning the 2011 French Open, had a 6-1, 6-3 win over Sesil Karatantcheva of Kazakhstan, while No. 18 Julia Gorges of Germany and No. 27 Sorana Cirstea of Romania also advanced.
On the men’s side, No. 10 Nicolas Almagro of Spain beat American qualifier Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-2, No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka beat German qualifier Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 and No. 16 Kei Nishikori of Japan had a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win over Romania’s Victor Hanescu.
Novak Djokovic began his bid to be the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles, breaking Paul-Henri Mathieu’s serve in the opening game and going on to beat the veteran Frenchman 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.
Djokovic, who broke Mathieu’s serve at 5-5 in the deciding set, won in 2011 and 2012 to go with his title here in 2008, which was also the first of his five majors.
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 due to illness and was warmly welcomed with applause as she entered the court. She 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.
The announcer told the crowd as Williams, who has won seven major titles, was warming up on court: “She’s back and fiery.”
Williams said she was happy with the match statistics, particularly her serve, so early in the season.
“I don’t think my opponent quite got the hang of . . . you know, it’s hard to play the first match in a major, first thing of the year, and that can be a lot of pressure,” Williams said. “I did my best to just close it out.”
Her younger sister, Serena, was sitting in the crowd with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Serena is the strong favourite 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.