2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova would open her campaign against Tatjana Maria 10 years later, though this time she returns as an unseeded player due to her suspension while carrying the status of a dark horse. Facing the tricky player in the German, Sharapova would find it tougher to get going in Melbourne, with Maria looking to cause the huge upset on the second day of play.
Results in 2018: Tatjana Maria
Starting off the year with a career-high ranking of 46, Maria endured through a series of disappointing losses, coming into the Australian Open without a win in 2018.
She was defeated by Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in a thrilling first-round match at the Brisbane International before eventual quarterfinalist Donna Vekic upset her in Hobart, leaving her in poor form entering the first Major of 2018. It is an extremely cruel draw for Maria, who now has to face the five-time Grand Slam champion in the first round.
Results in 2018: Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova made her debut at the Shenzhen Open to kick off 2018, and she produced a good run to the semifinals where she fell to defending champion Katerina Siniakova in three tight sets. Nonetheless, her top-notch performances ensured that she would make her return to the top-50 for the first time since her suspension.
Having reached the second week of nine consecutive Grand Slams which she had participated in, Sharapova is a huge threat in Melbourne but her dark horse status is in jeopardy after being handed a tough draw which looms a potential third-round meeting with the in-form and unstoppable Angelique Kerber before fellow ex-world number one Garbine Muguruza could await in the fourth round.
Head to Head: First meeting
This first-round encounter will mark the first-ever match between Maria and Sharapova. With contrastingly playing styles, this is poised to be a high-quality affair between the two unseeded players.
Both players are still going strong at the age of 30, and Maria’s playing style is extremely tricky for Sharapova. The German, one of the few active mums on tour, loves utilizing her backhands to trouble her opponents and it would definitely be useful against the aggressive Russian who often struggles with slices. Maria inputs both slices and topspin shots on her unique one-handed backhand shots, and she is also a solid baseliner who has great defensive skills as well.
Adding to her decent serves and wonderful court coverage, Maria could pose some huge problems for the 2008 champion. Nonetheless, Sharapova’s merciless forehands would be a lethal weapon during this match-up. Her backhands could instead be a liability, but grabbing the first serves is crucial for the five-time Major champion, who often goes for risky second serves.
The key factor in this encounter would be Sharapova’s consistency — whether she could find the rhythm in her game early on. The former world number one will come into the match as the overwhelming favourite, but we could never underestimate Maria as a dangerous opponent.