Maria Sharapova shines in her Brisbane comeback


Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - Page 20

Maria Sharapova returned after four months out injured with a completely dominant 6-3, 6-0 victory over France’s Caroline Garcia in the opening round of the Brisbane International yesterday.

The world No. 4 showed no signs of the shoulder injury which has kept her off court since the Western and Southern Open in August, as she raced into the second round in 64 minutes at the Pat Rafter Arena.

“I was pretty sick of the off-season and I was ready to get going,” a beaming Sharapova said on court. “I missed the game, I wanted to come out here and really perform well and I tried to do that.”

Clearly frustrated after so long without any competitive action, the 26-year-old Russian came out firing on all cylinders and raced to a 3-0 lead against her 74th-ranked opponent. Watched by her new coach Sven Groeneveld, the four-time major champion ruthlessly dismantled the big serve that has created excitement around the 20-year-old Garcia.

Sharapova wrapped up the first set with a blistering forehand winner after 39 minutes and was 4-0 up in the second two service breaks later. With the momentum all on her side of the court and Garcia shaking her head at the quality of some of the returns coming back over the net, Sharapova grabbed another break and sealed the victory on her serve with a forearm smash.

The Russian, forced to pull out of the Brisbane tournament due to injury for the past two years, was delighted to finally show off her skills to the Queensland public.

“It’s been so long, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to play this event for so many years and I’m so happy it was this year after being away from the game for a few months.”

The third seed will undoubtedly have the majority of the crowd against her in her second-round match, when she plays Australian teenager Ash Barty, who earlier beat Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 7-5.

“It’s going to be another tough one, she’s already played four times here, which is a huge advantage coming into the new year,” said Sharapova, who is seeded to meet world No. 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals.

German fifth seed Angelique Kerber — the beaten finalist at Wimbledon this year — also beat a French 20-year-old in her first match, seeing off Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-2.

Former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic earlier beat former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) to take her place in the second round.

In the men’s draw, Croatian Marin Cilic came from behind to beat Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 and American Sam Querrey upset Russian seventh seed Dmitry Tursunov 7-5, 6-4.

Finn Jarkko Nieminen earlier thrashed local James Duckworth 6-2, 6-3 to earn the dubious pleasure of a second-round meeting with top seed Roger Federer.

Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei lost to Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-2, 6-1.

Additional reporting by staff writer