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Halep, Sharapova, Kerber, Muguruza advance at Australian Open 

Melbourne, Jan 16 (IANS) World No.1 Simona Halep of Romania and former top-ranked women tennis players, Maria Sharapova of Russia, Angelique Kerber of Germany, Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain and Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic progressed to the second round of the Australian Open here on Tuesday.

Two-time French Open runner-up Halep of Romania had to fight to defeat Australia’s Destanee Aiava 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 in the first round, reports Efe.

Despite twisting her ankle early in the first set, the Romanian top seed recovered from 2-5 down before sailing through the second set, sealing a place in the second round for the first time in three years.

“I’m waiting to see after the recovery how it will be, because it is still warm, so I cannot feel it,” Halep said, referring to her ankle, following the one-hour-and-51-minute match.

Over 40 unforced errors and nine double faults by the 17-year-old wildcard Aiava gave Halep a hand in her bid for a first Grand Slam title.

The 26-year-old Halep is scheduled to play against Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard for a place in the third round.

In Sharapova’s return to the tournament after failing a doping test in 2016, the 30-year-old Russian prevailed over Tatjana Maria of Germany 6-1, 6-4.

Sharapova saw her serve broken twice, and broke her rival’s serve five times out of seven chances.

In 2016, the former champion stunned the world when she announced she had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the first Grand Slam of the season.

Despite denying she had violated the rules, Sharapova was banned from professional tennis for two years by the International Tennis Federation.

The ban was later reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and she returned in April 2017.

The five-time Grand Slam champion is scheduled to play in the second round against Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.

The 2016 champion Kerber defeated her compatriot Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-0, 6-4 in a little over an hour.

Kerber’s serve was broken twice in the second set, but she seized on three out of nine break points to seal the win.

The two-time Grand Slam champion is set to square off next against Donna Vekic of Croatia.

Muguruza of Spain defeated Jessika Ponchet of France 6-4, 6-3. Currently ranked world No.3, Muguruza played with a bandaged right thigh to prevent any further complications in her leg, having withdrawn from the Brisbane International due to leg cramps in her opening match.

The reigning Wimbledon champion was also forced to withdraw from the Sydney International due to these issues, but on Tuesday appeared to have moved past them.

The 23-year-old Muguruza broke Ponchet’s serve four times and conceded her serve only once during the match, which lasted one hour and 24 minutes.

Muguruza, a 2017 quarter-finalist in Melbourne, blasted 31 winners past Ponchet, world No. 260.

The Spaniard is set to play against Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan, world No. 82, who prevailed over China’s Lin Zhu 0-6, 6-0, 8-6.

Pliskova, the 2016 US Open finalist, got rid of Paraguay’s Veronica Cepede Royg 6-3, 6-4, to face Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil.

Britain’s Johanna Konta, the ninth seed, also advanced to the second round after defeating Madison Brengle of the United States 6-3, 6-1.

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