Jan 012018
Maria Sharapova of Russia waves to the crowd after her victory over Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania in the first round at the Shenzhen Open. -AFP

SHENZHEN: World number one Simona Halep began the year in emphatic style with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Nicole Gibbs as Maria Sharapova also romped through her first-round match at the Shenzhen Open on Monday.

Romania’s Halep, who will be seeking her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in two weeks’ time, struck 12 winners to blitz the 110th-ranked American in one hour and nine minutes.

“We had a big crowd, which was nice to play in front of,” Halep said after her first-round match in the southern Chinese city, where she won in 2015.

Halep won the first set with the help of an aggressive forehand, and then opened the second set with a crunching backhand winner down the line before running away with the match.

“It’s always nice to play here in Shenzhen,” she added. “I won a title here three years ago already. It’s my first victory this year as number one in the world, so I’m just happy and enjoying the time.”

Meanwhile, five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, making her Shenzhen debut, also despatched Romania’s world number 56 Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-3, 6-0 in an hour and 20 minutes.

The Russian, who is embarking on her first full season since returning from a 15-month doping ban in April, sealed her straight sets win after striking 18 winners to 20 unforced errors.

“It’s quite remarkable to see a full stadium for a first round,” she said. “It’s my first time here, so I didn’t know what to expect.”

Halep will next face China’s Duan Yingying while Sharapova will play American Alison Riske in the second round.

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