sharapova off to flyer

Australian Open build-up starts well

By Julian Linden

Maria Sharapova made a powerful start to the new tennis season yesterday, crushing Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova 6-0 6-1 at the Brisbane International as she gets ready for this month's Australian Open.

After spending more than half her life on the professional circuit, the 27-year-old knows the follies of reading too much into her early matches but the Russian was still pleased by her performance.

"It certainly felt good to start, after not playing a match for a couple of months. Despite all the training, it's such a different feeling to go out on the court and play in front of a crowd," she said.

"You always want to apply the things you work on little by little into match atmosphere. I think I did that quite well. I wanted to start off sharp and try to do the right things."


Looking revitalised after taking a break following her early exit from last year's WTA Championhips in Singapore, Sharapova ticked all the boxes in her 63-minute romp against Shvedova.

Sharapova served well, landing 67 per cent of her first serves and saving the two break points she faced, and was ruthless against Shvedova, racing through the opening set in just 23 minutes and jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second.

"It's only the first match of the season. It only gets tougher from here. I have a bit of a different opponent if Suarez Navarro wins the next one," said Sharapova, a semi-finalist in Brisbane last year.

"We'll see how that goes. Hopefully I continue to improve and take it a step further this year."

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki and former world number one Venus Williams, meanwhile, ensured Auckland Classic organisers' dream final remained on track with the duo both recording comfortable victories in their first round matches.

The Dane dispatched Israeli qualifier Julia Glushko 6-3 6-2 while third seed Williams was imperious in her 6-1 6-0 demolition of Slovakia's Jana Cepelova.

Men's world number one Novak Djokovic polished off fellow Serb Dusan Lajovic 6-2 6-1 in the first round of the Qatar Open yesterday. Making his first appearance at the hardcourt event as he cranks up his Australian Open build-up, Djokovic showed no sign of the illness that sidelined him at last week's Abu Dhabi exhibition event as he eased through to the second round.