MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Maria Sharapova barely missed a beat in her first match back at the Australian Open since a failed doping test in 2016 resulted in a 15-month ban from tennis.
One of just two former champions in the women’s draw, Sharapova recovered from an early break in the second set and closed out her 6-1, 6-4 victory over Tatjana Maria with an ace on Tuesday at Margaret Court Arena. She celebrated by twirling, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.
“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. “It was really meaningful for me to be out here.”
Sharapova was banned for after testing positive for the drug meldonium here in 2016, when she reached the quarterfinals, and finished last year ranked No. 60.
The five-time major winner could next meet No. 14-seeded Anastasija Sevastova, who beat her at the U.S. Open last year in her return to a Grand Slam to tournament.
After returning in New York, Sharapova is confident she’s prepared again for a major.
“I felt like I have got a lot of things out of the way physically and emotionally and mentally last year with — there was a lot of firsts again for me, playing the first tournament, first Grand Slam, and just different feelings and what it would be routinely,” she said. “But it felt pretty routine today.”
Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, continued her resurgent run with a 6-0, 6-4 win over fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam.
Kerber raced through the first set in 17 minutes but had her struggles in the second and was broken twice before converting her second match point and extending her streak to 10 consecutive wins, including the Sydney International title last week — her first title since the 2016 U.S. Open.
Her ranking slid into the 20s in 2017, but she’s coming back into the kind of form which makes her a title contender at Melbourne Park.
“I’m just enjoying it on court again,” Kerber said. “Something is going on with Australia and me. I love this country — I enjoy my stay, play my best tennis.”
Madison Keys reversed a trend, becoming the only one of the four American women who contested the U.S. Open semifinals last September to reach the second round in Australia.
Sloane Stephens, Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe were all eliminated on Day 1, when U.S. women went 1-9.
No. 17-seeded Keys, the runner-up at the U.S. Open, had a 6-1, 7-5 win over Wang Qiang on Day 2. At that stage, the U.S. women were 3-13 in first-round matches.
No. 9 Johanna Konta beat Madison Brengle 6-3, 6-1, handing the American women their 10th loss in 11.
Konta will next meet Bernarda Pera, a lucky loser in the qualifying tournament, who registered the second win by a U.S. woman when she beat Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova 6-2, 6-2.
Other seeded players advancing included No. 1-ranked Karolina Pliskova, No. 8 Caroline Garcia, No. 16 Elena Vesnina, and No. 29 Lucie Safarova.
On the men’s side No. 4-ranked 4-Alexander Zverev beat Thomas Fabbiano 6-1, 7-6 (5), 7-5 and No. 7 David Goffin had a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over Matthias Bachinger.
No. 13 Sam Querrey restored some order for the U.S. men with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Feliciano Lopez, advancing to the second round. Two other U.S. contenders, No. 8 Jack Sock and No. 16 John Isner, were among the first-round casualties on Monday.
No. 20 Roberto Bautista Agut and No. 22 Milos Raonic, a former Wimbledon finalist, were beaten.
Bautista Agut lost to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, a semifinalist here in 2009, and Raonic lost 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (4) to Lukas Lacko in the opening match on Show Court 2.