Australian Open organisers defending Sharapova even before a serve has been made

Aubrey Yates
January 13, 2018

Sharapova's back in Australia for the first time since being banned after a doping violation at the 2016 Open.

However, tournament director Craig Tiley has defended the decision and seemed to suggest Sharapova was the only former victor available.

After the 15-month long suspension, imposed in 2016 for violating anti-doping regulations, Sharapova made her comeback to tennis in April past year.

"The challenge we always have this week is the Sydney event and the Hobart event".

'We wanted to have a former champion, ' Tiley explained.

Sharapova's involvement in the draw ceremony would be rendered irrelevant if she were to lose in the first round to the German Tatjana Maria, who is also aged 30 and is ranked one place above her in the world.

Sharapova revealed she still believes she can be world number one.

"In her autobiography previous year, Sharapova observed of Williams, who has a 19-2 career record over her: "[Her] physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realise watching TV.

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World's No. 1 and top-seed Simona Halep will open her battle for the 2018 Australian Open trophy with a match against 17-year-old Destanee Aiava of Australia, who is now ranked 193rd in the WTA rankings.

"You have many different champions (on the women's tour) and there's a lot of ups and downs. but it's anyone's to grab. I hope I put myself in that position".

But the 30-year-old remains unseeded and has her work cut out to progress far in the draw, with 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova, who beat Sharapova at the US Open, a potential second-round opponent and Kerber likely to be waiting in round three.

She said it was "incredibly special" to be back at Melbourne Park after being forced to watch the 2017 tournament from home.

If Johanna Konta wants to win her first grand slam title in the country where she was born - and she is among a slew of contenders hoping the absence of the title holder, Serena Williams, will open up the draw over the next fortnight - she may have to beat the 2008 champion, Maria Sharapova, to reach the final.

"I watched the whole tournament and I remember it very well", she said.

"That's why being here is incredibly special, to be on this court".

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