Maria Sharapova, Angelique Kerber, Novak Djokovic advance with first-round victories at Australian Open


Maria Sharapova, Angelique Kerber and Novak Djokovic ensured there were all kinds of successful comebacks on Day 2 of the Australian Open.

Six-time champion Djokovic and 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka returned from long injury layoffs with victories in their first matches since Wimbledon.

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 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.”

Kerber, the 2016 champion, continued her resurgent run with a 6-0, 6-4 win over fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam. It extended 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 that makes her a title contender.

“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.”

No. 1-ranked Simona Halep was in serious trouble twice — having to save set points at 5-2 down in the first set, and badly twisting her left ankle early in the second — before beating 17-year-old Australian wild-card entry Destanee Aiava 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.

In other women’s singles, Nao Hibino lost to Croatia’s Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-3, despite hitting more aces and winners than her opponent. However, Hibino failed to convert any of five break-point chances.

Hibino said she made a mistake by trying to increase the pressure on her 21-year-old opponent because she seemed to be holding back. But Vekic responded by raising her game.

“I was expecting a good result because I was in nice shape before the tournament,” said Hibino, who failed to advance to the second round of the tournament for the third straight year.

Kurumi Nara also failed to advance beyond the opening round by losing to Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova 7-5, 6-4.

“I have trouble returning left-handed slice serves… (and) I couldn’t believe I was playing against an 18-year-old who was so composed,” said Nara.

In the men’s draw, defending champion Federer beating Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in a night match, his first on Rod Laver Arena since clinching a career-reviving title here last year. The 19-time major winner has been met on court after wins here previously by tennis greats Laver, John McEnroe and Jim Courier.

On Tuesday night, he got something different. Comedian Will Ferrell stepped out of the crowd and, slipping into character as Ron Burgundy from the movie Anchorman, conducted the post-match interview.

As usual, the 36-year-old Federer stayed classy.

Also Tuesday, Taro Daniel lost to France’s Julien Benneteau 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (7-0), 6-4, 6-1. After winning a first-set tiebreaker, Daniel lost the next three sets to aggressive play by Benneteau.

“After the tiebreaker in the second set, my opponent took risks and went on the attack,” said Daniel, who showed uneven play throughout the match.

“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.”

Djokovic tweaked his service motion while recovering from an injured right elbow, and used it to good effect in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Donald Young, who saved four match points on his own serve but was out in the next game.

Djokovic lost in the second round here last year, but won five of the previous six Australian Open titles.

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