For the third time in four years, Sharapova opened Rod Laver Arena on the first day of the Australian Open. She had lost there to Kirilenko in 2010 and defeated Tanasugarn there in 2011, but her performance today surpassed either of those efforts as she did not drop a game to the overmatched Olga Puchkova. Since she had not played any preparatory tournaments, the Russian needed a commanding start like this match to help her find her groove quickly before the competition stiffens.
Looking a bit rusty at first, Sharapova challenged incorrectly in her first service game to set up a break point. She saved it with an ace that barely grazed the center service line, and another ace saved a second break point as she continued to struggle with the range of her groundstrokes. In a flaming red dress, Puchkova burst out to an early lead in her first service game, only to see it evaporate with penetrating returns from Sharapova. The world #2 consolidated her lead with two more aces and kept the momentum firmly in her control as she raced to 5-0.
For the second straight year, Sharapova started her Australian Open campaign with a bagel against an opponent who appeared to lack belief. When she had bageled Dulko to start last year’s tournament, however, she had lost focus early in the second set and let it become temporarily competitive. A deuce game on her serve to start the second set this year suggested the same trend. Sharapova escaped it, recalling the first set, and continued to keep Puchkova pinned well behind the baseline with groundstrokes of a depth that her opponent probably had seen little among the players at her level.
At 0-6, 0-3, Puchkova looked likely to arrive on the scoreboard for the first time when she built at 30-0 lead behind solid first serves. But Sharapova’s unleashed a barrage of ferocious shot-making that ranged from a forehand winner over the high part of the net to a backhand return winner. From there, the Russian closed the fourth double bagel of her career comfortably.
Sharapova now owns a double bagel at every major except Wimbledon, and she extended her recent first-week dominance at majors, especially those on hard courts. Since the start of last season, she has lost just twelve total games in the first week of hard-court majors while serving 18 bagels and breadsticks at majors overall. Her next opponent, likely Petra Martic, faces a stern challenge as Maria aims to set up a third-round clash with Venus Wiliams.
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