Australian Open 2015: Sharapova wins, but Ivanovic leads out eight seeds

Maria Sharapova is through to the second round in Melbourne but Ana Ivanovic is one of eight seeds to lose

It took the strong, towering presence of one of tennis’s most popular players, Maria Sharapova, to steady the Australian Open ship on the first day of action in Melbourne Park.

For that day began with what would become a flood of losses as the seeds in the bottom half of the draw drained away one by one.

The biggest shock was the first, the in-form No5 seed Ana Ivanovic. Exactly seven years ago, the tall 20-year-old from Serbia backed up a break-out run to her first Major semi-final in Paris with another in Melbourne, and went on to claim her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros and the No1 ranking the same year.

But Ivanovic struggled through the rest of 2008, and over the next few years, she seesawed between finals and first-round losses to see her ranking slip briefly outside the top 60.

But come 2014, a wiser, fitter and more confident Ivanovic won a career-best four titles from six finals, and more WTA matches—58—than anyone on the tour. Her resurgent form carried her back to No5, and to the WTA Championships for the first time since 2008. She also notched up wins over Serena Williams and Sharapova to end the year with a best-ever nine top-10 wins.

She appeared to revel in playing throughout the IPTL season, too, winning the bulk of her matches and talking of her aims for this season: “Having more success at the Slams is definitely my main goal for 2015… I really believe I can do it, and that’s what it will take to win another Grand Slam.”

Ivanovic avoided the ‘quarter of death’ in the draw, too, the one that contains Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka, and she was hot favourite to get past 29-year-old qualifier, Lucie Hradecka, who had never got beyond the second round in a Major.

It started well enough, a 21-minute 6-1 first set, but little more than an hour later, an error-riddled match from Ivanovic opened the door for the doubles expert Hradecka to up her game and take the surprise win, 6-3 6-2.

Ivanovic had hit 30 errors and 10 double faults to just 19 winners, and was rightly disappointed.

“It’s very disappointing, it’s probably the worst thing that could happen, but the year is young.

“It was really tough for me to find rhythm. I really felt like I couldn’t put so much power on my serve or the groundstrokes. So many times my forehand was finishing short as well, and that was very disappointing.”

But Ivanovic’s exit was only the beginning as eight of the 16 seeds in the half headed by Sharapova left the tournament. No9 seed Angelique Kerber lost to Irina-Camelia Begu 6-4, 0-6, 6-1, and No16 Lucie Safarova lost a barnstormer, 6-8 in the third set, to Yaroslava Shvedova.

The No17 seed Carla Suarez Navarro was beaten in straights by Carina Witthoeft, while WTA Rising Star Caroline Garcia beat No27 seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova, also in straights.

The youngest seed in the draw, 17-year-old Belinda Bencic, could not replicate her second-round finish here in her first Grand Slam last year, losing 6-2, 6-1, to Julia Goerges.

Other women to fall in three sets were No23 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to Yanina Wickmayer, and No28 Sabine Lisicki to Kristina Mladenovic.

It was no surprise that Sharapova, winner of the Premier tournament in Brisbane two weeks back, should win the last match of the day on Rod Laver Arena, nor that she should do so 6-4, 6-1. Her opponent, Petra Martic—who turned 24 today—is ranked only 184, but the Croatian woman made it highly competitive in the first set before Sharapova, as is her habit, grew in stature as the match went on.

No, not a surprise, but a relief for the tournament that one its biggest stars lives to fight another day. And having put out one qualifier, she will next face another in the 150-ranked Alexandra Panova.

Other seeds to did survive in Sharapova’s quarter included No7 seed and 2014 semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard, No21 Peng Shuai, and No31 Zarina Diyas, in a section that is opening up nicely.

Meanwhile, in Ivanovic’s quarter, No3 seed Simona Halep and No14 Sara Errani both progressed with ease.

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