Sharapova off to blistering ‘double bagel’ start at Australian Open

Now is this any way to treat a player who grew up idolizing you?

Sentiment of course counts for little in the heat of sporting battle and Maria Sharapova didn’t want to linger at the Australian Open when she faced Britain’s Harriet Dart, especially in temperatures that topped 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) on the opening day of the year’s first major.

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The five-time grand slam winner duly crushed a crestfallen Dart 6-0, 6-0 in Melbourne to record her first ‘double bagel’ win since the third round of the 2014 French Open against Paula Ormaechea. Dart left the main Rod Laver Arena in tears.

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Asked if she felt empathy for the 22-year-old, Sharapova, who registered back-to-back double bagels in Melbourne in 2013, didn’t flinch. “I mean, there is no time for that, I’m sorry to say.

“I have been in many positions, last year at Wimbledon came out against a qualifier that played really well. There is no doubt that my level wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but she was there to take the match,” she added, referring to a first-round defeat by compatriot Vitalia Diatchenko.

“So I’m not so much worried about my opponent, but I have to step up when the time is right and when I need to, so that’s my main goal.”

The victory was precisely what Sharapova was looking for after retiring from her first tournament of the season in Shenzhen with a thigh injury. That followed a 2018 campaign in which Sharapova suffered arm and shoulder problems, forcing the 30-year-old to shut things down in September.

Injuries a constant

Since returning from a drug suspension in 2017, the injuries have been ever-present. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, in the five previous grand slams of her comeback, Sharapova has passed the fourth round just once.

She said the problems with her shoulder led her doctor to proclaim it was a “day-by-day pain management situation.”

“Still not where I want it to be,” said Sharapova. “Still working through some painful days. But, yeah, I felt like I did all the right things today in order to get through that match.”

Her opponent — ranked 132nd and making only her second grand slam appearance — managed just nine points on serve.

Double faults have been an issue for Sharapova given her shoulder troubles and she struck seven on her own serve, accounting for all but one of the Englishwoman’s points returning second serves.

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Sharapova next confronts Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson and could meet defending champion Caroline Wozniacki in round three.

At a time when three-time grand slam winner Andy Murray said he would retire due to injury, Sharapova — named by Forbes as the world’s richest athlete for 11 straight years until 2016 — had no intention of quitting.

“I still really have the passion for this,” said Sharapova. “I enjoy, like, seeing the effort that I’m able to put in, and I think that hard work will always ultimately come to the surface, not necessarily in maybe the specific, say, it’s tennis, or something else.”

“But I do feel that it’s really shaped the way that my career has been and my life has been. If I put an effort into a certain category, sometimes it doesn’t come overnight, doesn’t come in a year, and sometimes it comes maybe in very unrelative things in your life, and I believe in that.

“The way I handle my career today is the way I’ll handle my life in 10, 20 years, and that’s extremely important to me.”