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Melbourne storm as Maria Sharapova is handed a starring role

13 January 2018

Sharapova revealed she still believes she can be world number one. The occasion had an uneasy air about it when the Russian - whose last appearance here was two years ago, losing to her American rival in the quarter-finals and then serving 15 months for failing a drugs test - was invited to share the opening ceremony spotlight with the men's champion, Roger Federer.

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova will play against Germany's Tatjana Maria in the first round of the 2018 Australian Open, which kicks off next week on the courts of Melbourne Park.

With defending champion Serena Williams missing the tournament, organisers controversially chose Sharapova to represent the women's side of the draw.

Victoria Azarenka, another former champion, is also absent - because of a custody battle over her child - which left Angelique Kerber, who is playing in Sydney this week, as the only other former women's singles champion playing in the tournament.

Simona Halep takes a break from practising hard ahead of the 2018 Australian Open
Australian Open defends decision to invite Maria Sharapova to draw ceremony after 15-month suspension

Sharapova is back in Australia for the first time since being banned after a doping violation at the 2016 Open. 50th anniversary since she's won.

It's been nearly six years since Maria Sharapova was world No.1 and a decade since she won the Australian Open, but the Russian still hopes to achieve both once more as she rebuilds her tennis career. I have to back off sometimes and say this will take time. "And here I am in a sport that has given me so much - and I hope to have a family too". "It was the highlight of previous year, beating Wimbledon and all the other tournaments I played". Those observations created a brief but considerable storm.

When asked if Sharapova's inclusion and the grand way in which she was unveiled had been appropriate, Tiley added: "In fairness to Maria, the adjudication has occurred on that".

Melbourne storm as Maria Sharapova is handed a starring role