Australian Open first round preview: Tatjana Maria vs Maria Sharapova

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With defending champion Serena Williams sitting out of the 2018 Australian Open, it was Maria Sharapova who carried the coveted women's trophy during the draw on Thursday.

"It's a challenge, but that's why it's a Grand Slam".

Tatjana, got into the exchange with her single-fisted backhand, forcing two successive errors from Sharapova that saw her serve broken in the third game. And of course she wailed like a banshee each time she hit the ball. This is a match that she will be expected to win with some ease and she will hope that is the case.

Maria managed to claw the break back before the former world No.1 went on a rampage, clubbing 13 winners compared to her opponent's two in the opening set.

Sharapova's only apparent nod to her break being a forced ban was to say she was able to do other things "even though it wasn't in the way that I wanted it to".

"I'm planning to play new tennis this year by changing my serve and forehand, so it's inevitable that I won't get good results right away".

Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic and 2014 victor Stan Wawrinka returned from injuries that had sidelined them since Wimbledon, top-ranked Simona Halep recovered from 5-2 down in her first set and a tumble in the second, and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber continued her unbelievable return to form.

Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, a semi-finalist in 2009, recorded 41 winners to upset 20th-seeded compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1 7-5 7-5.

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Wawrinka, who had six months out after surgery on his left knee, beat Ricardas Berankis 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (2).

Fellow former World No.1 Kerber, who won the tournament in 2016, was also impressive in dismissing Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-0, 6-4.

Mr Tiley also denied any players had a problem with playing on Margaret Court Arena after the tennis legend's outspoken comments on gay marriage that caused widespread outrage.

"It's been a couple of years since I've been back here - obviously I wanted to enjoy the moment", the 2008 Australian Open champion and three-time runner-up said in an on-court TV interview. "I missed a lot of swing volleys at the US Open".

"But it felt pretty routine today, just really happy to be back here". I feel like with every tournament and every week I have different feelings about different things.

Sharapova's dominance on return was phenomenal in the first, winning 63 per cent of the points when receiving serve.

Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, the 14th seed, awaits for Sharapova in round two after she beat Uzebkistan-born American Varvara Lepchenko 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

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