Winning start to 2018 for Halep, Sharapova

Current and former World No. 1s seal straight-set victories in Shenzhen

World No. 1 Simona Halep swatted aside American Nicole Gibbs while Maria Sharapova was flawless in her straight-set victory over Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu in the opening round of the Shenzhen Open yesterday.

Halep, who sealed a 6-4, 6-1 victory in an hour and 10 minutes, struck three aces and fired 12 winners and was at her aggressive best to set up a second-round clash with China's Duan Yingying who defeated Evgeniya Rodina 6-2, 7-5.

"It's always nice to play here in Shenzhen," said Halep, who captured the Shenzhen Open title in 2015.

"It's my first win this year as No. 1 in the world, so I'm happy and enjoying the time."


Five-time Major winner Sharapova hit 18 winners and needed an hour and 22 minutes to despatch the seasoned Buzarnescu 6-3, 6-0 for a winning start to the year.

"Every match gets tougher and, as a competitor and someone who tries to be realistic, I like to only look ahead to the next opponent," Sharapova said after the match.

It’s my first win this year as No. 1 in the world, so I’m happy and enjoying the time. Simona Halep, on her 6-4, 6-1 win over Nicole Gibbs yesterday

"It's quite remarkable to see a full stadium for a first round. It's my first time here, so I didn't know what to expect."

The Russian, who is embarking on her first full season since returning from a 15-month doping ban last April, next faces 2017 runner-up Alison Riske, who upset China's fifth seed Wang Qiang on Sunday.

"She beat a crowd favourite yesterday, so I know I have a tough match ahead, but I just want to keep playing better, and keep improving no matter who is across the net."

Unseeded Danka Kovinic, ranked world No. 123, stunned Greek seventh-seeded Maria Sakkari 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Local hope Zhang Shuai powered past Russia's Anna Blinkova 6-3, 6-4 and was joined in the next round by Timea Babos who beat China's Wang Xiyu 6-1, 6-1. - REUTERS, AFP