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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Halep and Sharapova make winning starts to 2018 as Svitolina sets sights on No 1 ranking

Current world No 1 and former incumbent were both comfortable winners in Shenzhen as was the world No 6 from Ukraine over in Brisbane.

Maria Sharapova waves to the crowd after her victory over Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round at the Shenzhen Open. AFP
Maria Sharapova waves to the crowd after her victory over Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round at the Shenzhen Open. AFP

Maria Sharapova marked the start of her first full season back on the WTA Tour with a comfortable 6-3, 6-0 win over Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round of the Shenzhen Open on Monday.

Five-time grand slam champion Sharapova hit 18 winners and needed just an hour and 22 minutes to defeat Buzarnescu. The 30-year-old Russian will face 2017 runner-up Alison Riske, who upset China's fifth seed Wang Qiang on Sunday.

"Every match gets tougher and as a competitor and someone who tries to be realistic, I like to only look ahead to the next opponent," said Sharapova, who returned to the tour in April last year following a 15-month doping suspension.

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"She beat a crowd favourite yesterday, so I know I have a tough match ahead, but I just want to keep playing better, and keep improving no matter who is across the net."

World No 1 Simona Halep was also comfortable in victory on Monday, hitting 12 winners en route to sealing a 6-4, 6-1 win over American Nicole Gibbs.

Romanian Halep, 26, set up a second round clash with China's Duan Yingying who defeated Evgeniya Rodina 6-2 7-5.

"It's always nice to play here in Shenzhen," said Halep, who captured the Shenzhen Open title in 2015. "It's my first victory this year as No 1 in the world, so I'm happy and enjoying the time."

Unseeded Danka Kovinic, ranked No 123 in the world, stunned Greek seventh-seeded Maria Sakkari 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Local hope Zhang Shuai powered past Russia's Anna Blinkova 6-3, 6-4 and was joined in the next round by Timea Babos who beat China's Wang Xiyu 6-1 6-1.

Over at the Brisbane International, Elina Svitolina got her season under way with an impressive 6-2, 6-4 win over former world No 6 Carla Suarez Navarro, and the Ukrainian immediately set her sights on the No 1 ranking.

Svitolina, 22, is currently ranked No 6 and enjoyed a break out 2017, winning five titles on her way to a career-high world ranking of No 3.

However, Svitolina has set her goals even higher, and after working hard in the off-season, believes she can reach the pinnacle of women's tennis.

"This match was a good example that I can play a good level of tennis, a high level of tennis," she said. "So I will try to continue to work and to just be focused on these kind of things.

"That's what's important for me - and then the grand slam and No 1 is all going to come if I have my game, if I'm healthy, if I'm playing my best."

Svitolina will take on Ana Konjuh in the second round following the Croatian's 6-1, 6-2 win over Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens on Sunday.

A miserable run by sixth-seeded Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic continued when she lost to Belarus qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Mladenovic, who has not won a match since Wimbledon, raced through the first set before Sasnovich fought back to win 1-6, 6-3, 7-5.