Sharapova will now play the winner of Croatia’s Petra Martic and Japan’s Misaki Doi. Puchkova, 25, entered the tournament ranked No. 105 in the WTA rankings and has never made it past the third round at a major.
The Russian star entered the tournament as the No. 2 player in women’s tennis. She is coming off a season in which she reached the final in Melbourne a year ago and captured her first French Open title, completing a career Grand Slam.
If all goes according to script in the women’s bracket—which it rarely does—Sharapova would meet No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals. Prior to the final four, she faces potential showdowns with No. 25 Venus Williams and No. 5 Angelique Kerber.
Although Sharapova faced concerns over a collarbone injury that caused her to withdraw from the Brisbane International that finished earlier this month, she showed few signs of any ailments in a strong opening performance.
If she stays healthy, Sharapova is undoubtedly one of the favorites to win in Melbourne. The only two other players who would be favored to beat her are No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and No. 3 Serena Williams, who will have to face each other to reach the final.
It is difficult to learn much about a superstar’s form in the first match at a tournament, but Sharapova did not display any weaknesses due to injury or lack of focus.
Her first true test will come in the later rounds, and this is not a victory she or her fans should dwell on.