Melbourne - Fifth seed Maria Sharapova crushed Japan's Nao Hibino in a ruthless
first round display as she fired a warning to her rivals at the
Australian Open on Monday.
The Russian, attempting to win her first title at Melbourne Park
since 2008, was in blistering form to take the match 6-1, 6-3 in 73
minutes on Margaret Court Arena.
There were concerns ahead of the clash about her lack of match
fitness, after Sharapova pulled out of the Brisbane International with a
But the 28-year-old, last year's beaten finalist, was in fine fettle
after hours on the practice courts as she handed a tennis lesson to
Hibino, who was making her Grand Slam debut.
"I haven't played many matches in many weeks so it's great to come
out here and start my season at the Australian Open," said Sharapova.
"I was quite pleased in the way I was able to play in my opening match.
"I'm feeling really good, which is a positive. I'm just happy to finish off today and be able to get ready for the next one."
Grunting at full volume, the Russian five-time Grand Slam winner was
focused and in total control as she raced to a 3-0 lead in just 10
It was the first meeting between the pair and Hibino was at a loss on
how to handle Sharapova's powerful groundstrokes and pinpoint service
The Japanese world number 56 managed to hold serve in the fourth game
but that was as good as it got with Sharapova firing 12 winners to take
the set in 32 minutes.
The set second started as the first finished with the Russian
dominant, immediately breaking to pile all the pressure on Hibino, who
has progressively climbed the rankings since her WTA debut in 2012.
The 21-year-old Japanese had few answers to the Russian armoury but
gamely clawed back two games, saved three match points and even broke
Sharapova as she served for the match. But it was only delaying the
inevitable and she eventually succumbed.
The trouble-free performance was a boost for Sharapova whose latter
half of 2015 was wrecked by injuries, first to her right leg which
forced her to miss the US Open.
She retired from her comeback match at the Wuhan Open in China in
September with a left forearm injury, only returning for the WTA Tour
finals in Singapore at the end of October.
Despite this she managed two tournament wins (Brisbane and Rome), with a 39-9 win-loss record.
She next plays Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus with a potential last
eight clash against her nemesis Serena Williams, who beat her in the
final last year and has won every match they have played since 2004.