MELBOURNE, January 18 – Former champion Maria Sharapova was a high profile casualty at the Australian Open on Monday but there were no dramas for Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina who led the charge into the second round.Britain’s Andy Murray and American Andy Roddick also cruised through, as did comeback queens Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin on a day plagued by persistent rain delays with numerous matches unable to finish.
Sharapova was a shadow of her former self in a 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-4 defeat to Maria Kirilenko.
It was a disastrous start to the year for the underdone 22-year-old, seeded 14, who opted to only play exhibitions in Thailand and Hong Kong as a warm-up to the opening Grand Slam of the season.
Playing with the roof closed on the Rod Laver Arena, she struggled to find consistency against a player ranked 58.
"I certainly had my chances and just didn’t execute," she said.
"There is no grey area. It was just up and down in many areas, and just finished at the down level."
The pin-up won here in 2008 but was deprived of defending her title last year after failing to recover from shoulder surgery which kept her out of action until May.
Another of the Russian contingent, Safina, downed Slovakia’s 47th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-4, while third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova also progressed.
Safina battled double faults and unforced errors in an emotional and spasmodic performance and was happy to get the win.
"It was not an easy first round match, she’s a very good opponent," said the number two seed, who was thrashed in the final last year by Serena Williams.
"I had some good moments and bad moments, but overall I’m happy I went through."
Clijsters, who sensationally won the US Open last year after coming out of retirement, was too good for Canada’s Valerie Tetreault, romping home 6-0, 6-4 in under an hour.
The powerful 15th seeded Belgian, along with Henin, lurk as dark horses to bookmakers’ favourite Williams, who gets her title defence underway on Tuesday against Poland’s Urszula Radwanska.
The unseeded Henin was equally impressive, downing fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-3 in only her second tournament since making a comeback from an 18-month retirement.
She now faces fifth seed Elena Dementieva in blockbuster second round clash after the consistent Russian beat Vera Dushevina 6-2, 6-1.
On the men’s side, defending champion Nadal wore down Australian Peter Luczak 7-6 (7/0) 6-1, 6-4.
"I thought it was going to be a tough match. First set was tough. Later was easier," said Nadal.
"It was one of the more emotional victories of my career, semi-finals and final," he added on last year’s title here. "So always when you come back to a big event like this, you remember the matches."
Scotland’s Murray was another in imposing form as he breezed past South African qualifier Kevin Anderson, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
Murray, fancied to become the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title since 1936, will face either France’s Marc Gicquel or Italy’s Simone Bolelli in the second round.
"I could have served better," he said. "It was a good start, he’s a tough player. He beat (Novak) Djokovic before in Miami, he’s won a tour event, so I wasn’t expecting it to be easy. I just got off to a good start, which helped."
Seventh seed Roddick motored past Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 to stay on track for a quarter-final clash with US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, who won his match against American Michael Russell in four sets.
Top seed Roger Federer opens his tournament on Tuesday against Russia’s Igor Andreev with third seed Djokovic and sixth seed Nicolay Davydenko posing the main threat for him in his top half of the draw.