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By Adrianna Outlaw | Monday, January 1, 2018

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova permitted just three games in her Shenzhen opener.

Photo credit: Shenzhen Open/IMG

Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova started the New Year strong at the Shenzhen Open.

The top-seeded Halep needed just 69 minutes to wrap up her 6-4, 6-1 first-round victory over American Nicole Gibbs at the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Centre.

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After a sluggish start from both players, with service breaks being exchanged in the third and sixth games, it was the world No. 1 who found her rhythm to dominate the remainder of the match.

“I was a little bit nervous in the beginning but I think I played well," Halep said. "I started the New Year with a victory, which means a lot. It gives me a happy start so I’m looking forward to the year. I’m sure it’s not going to be easy but I’m ready to face any challenge."

Halep faces Duan Ying-Ying in the next round, having defeated her on the grass courts of Eastbourne in June last year.

Five-time Grand Slam champ Sharapova smacked 18 winners as she defeated Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-3, 6-0 in 80 minutes on a Centre Court packed to capacity.

Although the 30-year-old Russian’s serve was the first to be broken during the match in the fifth game, she recovered immediately to break her opponent in the sixth and eight games to take the first set. Backed by a vociferous crowd, Sharapova saved two break points in the final game of the match to complete her impressive second set bagel.

“It’s good to start off the year with a victory, especially against an opponent I never played against before," Sharapova said. "I watched some of her matches on video and analysed her game to prepare. Overall, I thought aside from a few breaks in the beginning, I really stepped up and I finished the match off really well, which was important."

Zhang Shuai, the third seed and top ranked Chinese in the singles main draw, saved six out of seven break points to see off a strong challenge from Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova and complete a 6-3, 6-4 first round win in one hour and 27 minutes.

World No.35 Zhang will face Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas in the second round, with the latter having defeated Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-4 in her first round tie earlier today.

Eighth seeded Hungarian Timea Babos also moved into the second round with a comfortable 6-1, 6-1 victory over Chinese wild card Wang Xiyu in 71 minutes.

Maria Sakkari of Greece was the second seeded player to drop out in the first round as she succumbed to a surprise 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 defeat to qualifier Danka Kovinic of Montenegro.

Also notching first-round victories today were Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, who defeated Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele, and Chinese wild card Wang Yafan, who overcame another qualifier, Italy’s Jasmine Paolini.

Both all-Chinese doubles pairs in action today completed impressive super tie-breaker victories. Wang Qiang and Lu Jing-Jing defeated the scratch pairing of Oksana Kalashnikova and Wang Yafan 6-4, 4-6, 10-6 while the wild card duo Guo Hanyu and Wang Xinyu came back from a set down to upset the third seeded Czech tandem of Kristyna Pliskova and Renata Voracova, winning 2-6, 6-3, 10-4 in 71 minutes.

The remaining two singles first round matches along with four second round matches will be contested tomorrow.

Second seed and world No. 7 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia will make her much awaited debut here in Shenzhen as she takes on Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic in tomorrow’s second match on Centre Court. The duo have met twice before with honors even - Ostapenko was victorious on the hard courts of Katowice in 2016, while Pliskova took the win on clay in last season’s Prague semifinal.

The following match will surely be the most anticipated of the day, featuring Sharapova against American Alison Riske, who has made the finals in Shenzhen for two years running.

Riske endured a difficult end to the 2017 season, winning only once in six matches on the Asian swing, while Sharapova, in contrast, has only lost twice in her last ten matches.

Number three seed Zhang Shuai is also in second round action against Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas in the first match slated for Centre Court at 11am tomorrow, while the second round tie between eighth seed Babos and Poland’s Madga Linette will be the day’s final match played on Centre Court.


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