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Sharapova, Venus Williams cruise in Aussie openers

| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 10:32 p.m.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova finished her first match of the year in 55 minutes Monday, cruising to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Olga Puchkova to start proceedings on center court at the Australian Open without showing any signs of trouble with her sore right shoulder.

The No. 2-ranked Sharapova, who lost the final to Victoria Azarenka here last year before going on to win the French Open, faced only two break points in the match, and she saved both of those in the first game.

Then she went on a 12-game roll that earned her a second “double bagel” in the past a year.

Sharapova started her run to the French Open title with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Alexandra Caduntu at Roland Garros last year. But she said the score line wasn't really relevant.

“If you win 7-6 in the third, you've still won the match,” she said.

Sharapova withdrew from the Brisbane International earlier this month with an injured right collarbone, saying she wanted to concentrate on being fit for the season's first major. She skipped the tournament last year, as well, before going on to reach the Australian Open final.

Sharapova has a potential third-round match against Venus Williams, who needed just an hour for her opening 6-1, 6-0 win over Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan.

Williams played with power and determination and took command of the match early with a steady stream of winners and powerful serves.

She skipped last year's Australian Open because of an illness and was warmly welcomed with applause as she entered the court. Venus Williams had the biggest jump of any of the top players in 2012, moving from outside the top 100 to finish the year at No. 24.

The announcer told the crowd as Williams, who has won seven major titles, was warming up on court: “She's back and fiery.”

Her younger sister, Serena, was sitting in the crowd with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Serena is the strong favorite to win the Australian Open, heading into the tournament with 35 wins in her past 36 matches including titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open.

No. 3-ranked Serena Williams is in the top half of the draw with defending champion Victoria Azarenka, and the pair won't start until Tuesday.

Novak Djokovic started his bid to be the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles Monday with a first-round match against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France.

The top-ranked Djokovic shelved the conventional preparations for a while on the weekend, warming up for a shot at a third consecutive Australian title with a bit of weekend hit-and-giggle and a Gangnam Style dance with Serena Williams.

That was for kids' day, when thousands of people flocked to Rod Laver Arena to see 2012 Australian champions Djokovic and Azarenka hitting in a just-for-fun match with players and a cast of human-sized cartoon characters.

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