Tennis is beginning to feel like business as usual again for Maria Sharapova.
The former world number one defeated Tatjana Maria 6-1 6-4 on Tuesday in her first match at the Australian Open since the failed drugs test two years ago that rocked the sport.
The 30-year-old still finds herself being questioned all the time about her 15-month absence and the repercussions but Sharapova is settling back into the routine of grand slam tennis.
She said: “I felt like I got a lot of things out of the way physically and emotionally and mentally last year. There were a lot of firsts again for me – playing the first tournament, first grand slam, and just different feelings and what it would be routinely. But it felt pretty routine today. I’m just really happy to be back here.”
Sharapova found herself in the firing line of critics again on the eve of the tournament when she was invited to represent the women at the draw and carried the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup onto court.
As for how far she can go in the tournament, the 2008 champion feels she still has a distance to travel to rediscover grand slam-winning form.
“I feel like I’m building,” said Sharapova. “Some things are coming a little slower than I wanted. Some things I feel good about.
“I think confidence comes with time and with match play and putting yourself in situations where you’re able to take those opportunities.
“I know that nothing will be handed to me or anyone. I’m not overly confident. I have expectations because of my previous results in my career, and I know at what level I can play.
“But I’m also realistic, and the process of coming back takes time.”
Kerber has made an unbeaten start to the season under new coach Wim Fissette and carried that form into her first-round clash with fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam, winning 6-0 6-4.
Things were much less comfortable for world number one Simona Halep against 17-year-old Australian wild card Destanee Aiava.
Aiava led 5-2 and forced two set points despite taking a medical time-out when she grew so anxious she started hyperventilating. But Halep fought back to take the opening set on a tie-break and looked like she had ridden the storm.
However, in the second game of the second set she rolled her left ankle and, although she emerged an ultimately comfortable 7-6 (7/5) 6-1 winner, Halep must now no hope there are no repercussions for her second-round match with Eugenie Bouchard.
She said: “I just want to wait for tomorrow, to see how I wake up. From my experience, I feel that is nothing broken, but still the pain was big.”
Bouchard has slumped to 112th in the rankings but ended a six-match losing run by beating Oceane Dodin. There were also wins for top-10 players Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia and Johanna Konta but Petra Kvitova was beaten 6-3 4-6 10-8 by Andrea Petkovic.