BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Every point mattered for Maria Sharapova in her competitive comeback from injury, even in a first-round match in the season-opening tournament.
Sharapova beat 74th-ranked Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 6-0 Monday, ripping forehand winners and nullifying her rival’s biggest weapon with consistently aggressive service returns. She chased down balls to turn the tempo when she was behind in two games in the second set, and celebrated break points with triple fist pumps even when the result was well beyond doubt.
The four-time major winner played only one match following an early exit at Wimbledon last season due to a right shoulder injury. She showed no signs of soreness in advancing to the second round at the Brisbane International, her only warm-up event for the Australian Open.
“It’s been four months . . . (so) it was a big step for me. It was a big step to come and a big step to play out there tonight,” Sharapova said, adding that she was pain-free and feeling good. “These matches are what I came here for. No matter the opponent or the situation, you know, they’re really priceless for me at this point, and extremely important.”
The third-seeded Sharapova hit 26 winners and kept the unforced errors to 10, hitting six aces and only one double-fault — immediately after a backhand winner down the line had given her triple match point.
She will next play 17-year-old Australian qualifier Ashleigh Barty, who had a 6-3, 7-5 win over 2012 Brisbane finalist Daniela Hantuchova.
Also advancing were fourth-seeded Jelena Jankovic, who beat 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 7-6 (8-6), No. 5 Angelique Kerber, No. 8 Carla Suarez and No. 9 Dominika Cibulkova.
Sharapova’s boyfriend, fifth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, beat Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-2, 6-3 in the day’s last match on center court.
The star on the men’s side is Roger Federer, who has been working with Stefan Edberg in preparation for the Australian Open.
After failing to win a Grand Slam title in 2013, the 17-time major winner is the latest in a line of highly-ranked players who have hired past greats as coaches in the wake of Andy Murray’s success with Ivan Lendl. Novak Djokovic recently announced a partnership with Boris Becker — a move that surprised Federer.
“Not necessarily that he hired somebody . . . But Becker I was surprised,” Federer said. “I didn’t think he wanted to become a coach. I didn’t expect to see him back on tour.
“I’m happy seeing former greats and legends excited to be doing such a job and wanting to help the next generations. To bring them back into the game, it’s a good thing.”
In men’s first-round matches, Sam Querrey upset seventh-seeded Dmitry Tursunov 7-5, 6-4, Marin Cilic had a 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win over Denis Istomin and Jarkko Nieminen beat local hope James Duckworth 6-2, 6-3.
At the Hopman Cup in Perth, Sloane Stephens and John Isner gave the United States a 3-0 win over Spain.
Stephens, who beat Serena Williams en route to the 2013 Australian Open semifinals, won nine of the last 10 games in a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Anabel Medina Garrigues in the singles before Isner beat Daniel Munoz-de La Nava 6-3, 6-4.
Stephens and Isner then combined to win the mixed doubles as Spain slumped to back-to-back 3-0 defeats.
At the ASB Classic tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, Venus Williams beat Andrea Hlavackova 6-3, 7-6 (7-1) in her opening match.
Other first-round winners included Yvonne Meusburger, who beat seventh-seeded Mona Barthel 6-4, 6-3, and fifth-seeded Jamie Hampton.