Competing for the first time since September last year and that heavy US Open loss to Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova grabbed a wild card in Brisbane, hoping for a fresh start and injury-free season. The five-time Major champion played against a qualifier Jennifer Brady and lost 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 despite giving her best to kick off the year with a victory by her side.
Their only previous meeting was in Stanford 2017 that Sharapova won in three sets, unable to repeat that this evening in Brisbane and hoping to get another chance at the Australian Open where she needs a wild card as well.
Struggling with a shoulder injury for more than a year, Sharapova looked fine in the first clash of the seasons, with some ups and downs but with a solid level overall. She had eight aces but also 11 double faults, struggling on the second serve and getting broken twice from six opportunities offered to Brady.
The American lost only 21 points behind the initial shot, suffering just one break and crossing the finish line first despite a tight finish, standing as the better player for most of the encounter. Sharapova held at 15 in the first game with a service winner, securing a break with a beautiful lob in game two and forcing an error from her rival to bring another game home and open a 3-0 advantage.
Both players served well in the next five games and it was Maria who served for the opener a 5-3, only to find herself 40-0 down. With no room for errors, a former champion repelled all three break points and closed the set with a service winner for a big step towards the triumph.
Finding her best tennis in set number two, Brady had the upper hand all the time, serving well and mounting the pressure on the return that gave her breaks in games four and six, gaining a 5-1 advantage after a double fault from Maria and bringing the set home with a service winner in the next game for a 6-1.
With a boost on her side, Jennifer rattled off one good hold after another in the deciding set, forcing Sharapova to do the same in her games if she wanted to stay in touch. Maria did match that pace despite a couple of shaky service games, entering a tie break where the American scored three mini-breaks to take it 7-3 and move over the top when Sharapova netted an easy volley at the net in the tenth point.