Maria Sharapova had a firm first round victory at the Australian Open but not without some adversity to handle. The 2008 champion won in straight sets over Japan’s Nao Hibino 6-1, 6-3 at Margaret Court Arena Monday night
The number five ranked Russian superstar gets into play for the first time this season as she pulled out of Brisbane tournament where she was last year’s defending champion. Complaining of a forearm injury, Sharapova thought it best to be more than ready for the open than to watch herself fall to pieces where she finished as a finalist last season and was once a winner in 2008.
Hoping to get back there, the Russian played against Hibino for the first time who is not new to winning. The 21 year old Japanese tennis star won the Tashkent tournament last year making it her first career WTA tournament win. With this being her first time playing at Melbourne Park, the youngster would have much going against her playing on center stage against one of the WTA’s best athletes.
Sharapova had everything under control from her end holding service in the first game before taking the next two straight. Her great returns and movements on the ball had her looking to go perfect if fate made it so. Hibino had other ideas as she did great work through the last two points making Sharapova work for the ball.
The Russian implemented a drop shot technique not used in her fight to win but it helped bring her on deuce to save her winning streak. She didn’t get it as Hibino stole the advantage after a break to win herself a game. She didn’t enjoy it for long as Sharapova responded with a big win on her serve where her signature power shots captured a 4-1 score.
Sharapova remained ruthless through the final two games as she schooled the Japanese star by performing a flawless game in the seventh before winning the triple set point that ended the first in 31 minutes. She had a 67 percent success rate on the serve landing 12 winners and just eight unforced errors. Her 12 of 14 shots on the first serve were a key to her dominating performance on court.
The Russian continued to outduel Hibino eyeing her opponent’s swing to get to the ball in time to make the return. The success playing against Hibino’s forehand helped her get a fourth straight win to start the second set. With everything under her control, Sharapova put down some trick shots on court that had Hibino’s mind boggling in her head on how to respond. She landed an ace in the third game but it was overshadowed by Sharapova’s win of a point that led to yet another victory.
The tennis superstar stood three games away from a match win and with the ball back in her hands in the fourth, it only meant struggles for the Japanese player. A ninth ace from Sharapova gave her a 4-0 commanding hold of the set having not once committed an error.
She let two slip out in the very next game that had her fighting to stay perfect on deuce. Hibino was slamming on the door but kept getting shut out by Sharapova who was on the defense. After two breaks, Hibino got the job done pulling out a win to avoid the bagel for a second time in the match.
After committing her first double fault against Hibino, Sharapova fired off her tenth ace of the game before locking it up leading 5-1 to play for the match. Nerves got to the Japanese athlete as she recorded another double fault inching her opponent closer to the win. She somehow saved things in the seventh to win a second game delaying the inevitable for as long as she could.
Sharapova wanted to put her opponent away but Hibino kept swinging for the fences to stay in it. She pushed her way to three games before Sharapova slamming things shut winning the match game that put an end to things in 1 hour and 13 minutes.
“I haven’t play many matches in many weeks so this was just a great way to start my season at the Australian Open so I’m quite pleased with the way I played as my first match. Obviously someone that is up and coming across the net today and had nothing to lose and I knew I had my hands full,” Sharapova said to Ian Cohen during her on court interview. “I’m feeling really good which is a positive and just happy to finish off today and get ready for the next one.”
She would see action again in two days meeting Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus who won her match in straight set against fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina.