MELBOURNE, January 17 – Top seed Caroline Wozniacki battled into the second round of the Australian Open Monday while former champion Maria Sharapova overcame a nervous start against Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn.
French Open champion Francesca Schiavone also survived a tough work-out against Spaniard Arantxa Parra Santonja as some of the tournament’s leading lights made an unconvincing start.
Wozniacki, under pressure to claim a maiden Slam title to convince critics she is a deserving women’s number one, took an hour and 40 minutes to subdue tenacious Argentine Gisela Dulko 6-3, 6-4.
The 20-year-old Dane failed to impress as she struggled to subdue the challenge of Dulko, the world number 52, who made 38 unforced errors during the match.
"Gisela is a tough opponent, especially in the first round," Wozniacki said. "She changes the rhythm quite a bit so it’s tough to get there and play your own game. I’m really happy to be through, and through to the next round."
Earlier, former champion Sharapova admitted she had plenty of room for improvement after her 6-1, 6-3 win over 33-year-old Tamarine.
The 2008 winner lost her opening service game to Tamarine but hit back to win the next six games, wrapping up the first set in just 26 minutes.
The Russian broke again in the first game of the second set before going off the boil, dropping the next three games to go 3-1 down.
Tamarine had game points to make it 4-1 but Sharapova, seeded 14th, fought back, breaking her former doubles partner to get the set back on serve then dominating the rest of the match.
Sharapova has already improved on last year’s performance, when she was shocked in the first round by fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.
"I was definitely a little bit nervous in the beginning," Sharapova said.
"Last year I played the first match on centre court and I lost, so I was like, I don’t want this to happen again this year.
"I started playing better as the match went on, and I can only improve in the second one."
Elsewhere fifth seed Schiavone lost the opening set as Parra Santonja blazed away with a succession of clean winners. But the gritty Italian attacked in the second, breaking twice to level the match at one set apiece.
Schiavone broke to make it 5-4 in the decider, but she then faltered when serving for the match, giving the break straight back to the Spaniard.
However, Parra Santonja cracked while serving to stay alive, handing the first round tie to a relieved Schiavone 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 6-4.
Other seeded players to progress were Estonian Kaia Kinepi (20), who beat Magdalena Rybarikova 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 and Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova (29), a 6-2, 6-7 (4/7) 6-4 winner over German Angelique Kerber.
The women’s draw has been blown wide open by the injury withdrawal of five-time champion Serena Williams, with Sharapova among seven Grand Slam winners in the field.
Belgium’s Kim Clijsters is the favourite but faces a tough first-round assignment against Russia’s Dinara Safina, the 2009 finalist here.