Maria Sharapova was forced to fight all the way for a place in the second round of the 2014 Australian Open on Tuesday, Jan. 14, beating Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-3 6-4, confirmed by the tournament's official Twitter account:
World No. 3 Sharapova raced out of the blocks and took a 4-0 advantage in the first set, leaving Mattek-Sands stunned.
But the American fought back in earnest and made a contest of it before eventually going down 6-3.
Sharapova took an early break in the second to lay down the initiative before ceding ground and allowing Mattek-Sands back into the game.
However, a double fault at 4-4 put the Russian back in the driver's seat and she served out the match to complete a happy Grand Slam return.
Sharapova had not participated in a Slam since Wimbledon 2013 due to an injury to her right shoulder, and it showed as she shook off some rust at the Rod Laver Arena.
How far can Maria Sharapova go in the Australian Open?
To illustrate that point, per the tournament's official website, Sharapova ran up nine double faults on serve and 28 unforced errors.
She was fortunate, though, to be facing an opponent who was guilty of committing as many mistakes. Mattek-Sands made eight double faults and 30 unforced errors.
BBC Radio 5 Live correspondent David Law backed Sharapova to make good progress in the tournament, but after only recently returning from injury he cannot see her winning outright:
Maria Sharapova is one of the most relentless players you'll ever see. She keeps belting the ball back at you as hard as she can.
She hasn't played very much tennis recently and is a bit rusty and not confident enough to beat players easily in the way you should at this stage. I think she'll go quite far in this tournament but I can't see her winning it.
Sharapova will now face 44th-ranked Karen Knapp of Italy in Round 2. Knapp saw off Paula Ormaechea in the first round.