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Tennis | Australian Open

Sharapova, Venus, Li progress



Maria Sharapova and Li Na crushed hapless opponents on Monday to storm into the Australian Open second round as they kicked off their bids for further Grand Slam glory.

Another major winner, Venus Williams, joined them on a warm day at Melbourne Park but without the searing heat that gripped southeast Australia last week.

World No 1 and defending champion Victoria Azarenka, and tournament favourite Serena Williams, looking for a sixth Australian crown, play on Tuesday.

Reigning French Open champion Sharapova, who was hammered by Azarenka in last year's Melbourne final, was at her dominant best against fellow Russian Olga Puchkova on Rod Laver Arena, humiliating her in a rare double bagel.

Sharapova, the champion in 2008, powered through 6-0, 6-0 in just 55 minutes and will next play either Croat Petra Martic or Misaki Doi of Japan.

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China's world No 6 Li, the runner-up two years ago, overpowered Kazak Sesil Karatantcheva 6-1, 6-3 while seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus, watched by sister Serena, eased past another Kazak Galina Voskoboeva 6-1, 6-0.

Second seed Sharapova came into the season's opening Grand Slam without any competitive matches under her belt after a collarbone injury ruled her out of the Brisbane International, but showed no evidence of the problem on court.

"I didn't want to focus on the fact I hadn't played a lot of matches, just wanted to focus on what was ahead of me and really concentrate and be aggressive," said the Russian, who has won four Grand Slams.

"I also never faced her before. So it was just one of those matches where I didn't try to worry about her too much. I just tried to think about what I had to do."

Wearing a summery yellow dress and matching shoelaces, the 25-year-old won her opening serve then broke her 107th ranked opponent to take a 2-0 lead.

Grunting at full volume, she used her powerful forehand to devastating effect, pushing Puchkova around the court at will as she raced to a 3-0 advantage and then wrapped up the set in just 30 minutes.

Puchkova, who was playing in her third Australian Open and is yet to go beyond the second round, had little answer to the Sharapova weaponry and pushed a backhand long to cap a humiliating defeat.

Playing in her 10th campaign at Melbourne Park, Sharapova is looking to avenge the humbling she was dealt by Azarenka in the final last year, when she was thrashed 6-3, 6-0 in just 82 minutes.

Li, who complained of tiredness in the lead-up to Melbourne, was also in fine form against Karatantcheva to set up a second round clash with either France's Pauline Parmentier or Olga Govortsova of Belarus.

The 2011 French Open winner seized control by breaking for 3-1 and then 5-1 to take the opening set with ease.

Karatantcheva made her work harder for the second set but her resistance ultimately proved futile as Li sealed her progression with a forehand winner.

Venus Williams has dropped down the rankings and is only seeded 25 here as she works her way back after illness.

She has not won a Grand Slam singles title since her 2008 success at Wimbledon, but looked in ominous touch against Voskoboeva, rattling through the match in exactly one hour.

It set her up for a second round clash with either France's Alize Cornet or New Zealand's Marina Erakovic, and a potential third round showdown with Sharapova.

RADWANSKA INTO AUSTRALIAN OPEN SECOND ROUND

In-form fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska made the second round of the Australian Open, overcoming local qualifier Bojana Bobusic.

The Pole, who won lead-up events in Auckland and Sydney, was pushed hard in the first set before winning 7-5, 6-0 in 79 minutes and will next face either Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands or Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu.

KERBER INTO AUSTRALIAN OPEN SECOND ROUND

Angelique Kerber has defeated Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Australian Open.

The fifth-seeded Kerber, who turns 25 on Friday, broke her 127th-ranked opponent five times to take the match in 77 minutes.

Kerber had a breakthrough year in 2012, reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon and winning two titles to become the first German woman to finish in the year-end top five rankings since Steffi Graf in 1996.

Kerber's best result in Melbourne is reaching the third round in 2010 and 2012.

STOSUR BREAKS MISERABLE HOME STREAK

Sam Stosur finally got a win at the Australian Open Monday to ease some of the building pressure after first-round flops in Brisbane and Sydney this year.

The ninth seed and top local hope of tennis-mad Australian fans advanced, but not before a battle with Taiwan's Chang Kai-chen, finally prevailing 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 in 1hr 42min.

It was relief for the 28-year-old after her miserable start to the year and broke a run of five consecutive losses on home soil, including a first round exit at the Australian Open in 2012.

Asked if it was the most pressure she had faced in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament, she replied: "I don't know, I wasn't thinking of it like that before I went out there.

"Of course, I mean, I desperately wanted to win out there today, but didn't necessarily feel it any more than, you know, my first rounds in Grand Slams.

"From here hopefully I can loosen up a little bit and keep playing better and better."

The 2011 US Open champion's confidence rose after pocketing the first set as she served out the match against the Taiwanese, ranked 86 in the world.

"I think having gone through I'm really pleased that I didn't let that lead go and find myself back at even terms," she said.

"So it was good to get out of that set and then really kick it on from there."

Stosur has never gone beyond the fourth round at Melbourne in 10 attempts, sparking criticism that she can't take the home pressure.

"People get asked what their opinion is and they say it and it comes out there. I mean, it's fine. You know, everyone is entitled to think what they think," she said.

"But of course I have got a group of people around me I trust all year round not just during the summer of the Australian Open.

"Maybe some people had valid points, but at the end of the day, I'm always going to go back to who I know and who I trust the most."

She next faces China's Zheng Jie.

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