MELBOURNE, Australia - Maria Sharapova improved her record in the first round of Slams emphatically on Day 1 of the Australian Open, defeating British qualifier Harriet Dart, 6-0, 6-0 in 63 minutes to kick off the action on Rod Laver Arena. The 2008 champion is now 51-4 in the first round of majors, a winning percentage that is second only to Serena Williams (68-1).
Playing in just her second complete match since losing in the Round of 16 at the US Open last fall, Sharapova's quick performance was precisely what the World No.30 needed. The 31-year-old's recurring shoulder injury forced her to shut down her season after New York and she retired from her third-round match at the Shenzhen Open against Aryna Sabaelenka two weeks ago due to a leg injury.
"Obviously the shoulder hasn't been much of a secret in the past year," Sharapova said. "That's been something I have been struggling with and had to shut down the season after the US Open.
"Still not where I want it to be. Still working through some painful days. But, yeah, I felt like I did all the right things today in order to get through that match."
Battling the body has been a hot topic of conversation in tennis over the last two months. Agnieszka Radwanksa announced her retirement at age 29 due to injuries. Last week, former men's No.1 Andy Murray announced a hip injury has this his last season. Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki talked about managing her body after her diagnosis for an auto-immune disease.
"I think injuries are just part of the sport," Sharapova said. "We play ten months out of the year and the commitment that you have to give physically and mentally - I can only understand it from the perspective of my shoulder, because that's something that I have had to deal with since I was 21 years old and really at the peak of my career, [it] kind of came unexpected.
"And here I am about 10 years later kind of going through very similar struggles, not on the depth that I was then with the tear of a tendon.
"But you realize that you're not immortal, you're never going to play this forever, even though we have done it as long as we can think of.
"Yeah, and life moves on. But that's, I don't know, I look at that as an exciting chapter and not in a very sad way."
Sharapova has been battling her right shoulder since she was forced to undergo surgery nearly 10 years ago. Asked whether there was any possible fix for he shoulder pain, Sharapova said the answer is still unclear.
"I have asked Dr. Altchek that many times," Sharapova said. "I saw him beginning of December, and he says it's a day-by-day pain management situation."
The five-time major champion said the challenge, though painful and frustration, remains her motivation. "I still really have the passion for this," she said. "I enjoy seeing the effort that I'm able to put in, and I think that hard work will always ultimately come to the surface, not necessarily in maybe the specific, say, it's tennis or something else.
"But I do feel that it's really shaped the way that my career has been in and my life has been, if I put an effort into a certain category, sometimes it doesn't come overnight, doesn't come in a year, and sometimes it comes maybe in very [unrelated] things in your life, and I believe in that.
"The way I handle my career today is the way I'll handle my life in 10, 20 years, and that's extremely important to me."
As Sharapova looks to the future, she has a far more optimistic view of the moment a player hangs up their racquet.
"From my point of view, it's always striking when you hear a player that's the top of his career and obviously has impacted the sport in so many ways, when you say you're going to finish, it's like, you're cutting something, you're letting go, cutting ties with something that's been a part of your life for a very long time.
"From that perspective, I just have a very different opinion. I know that this is a huge part of our life and we start in it and continue with it and we want to do it as much as we can, and maybe the men's side a little bit longer than the women's side.
"But at one point, life goes on and there's a lot of things to look forward to. You have family, children, other business ventures. To me, that doesn't make me sad. That makes me excited."
Sharapova plays Sweden's Rebecca Peterson in the second round on Wednesday.