Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director, has defended the decision to invite Maria Sharapova to the draw ceremony.
With defending champion Serena Williams missing the tournament, organisers controversially chose Sharapova to represent the women.
The Russian entered Margaret Court Arena carrying the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup at the same venue where she failed a doping test for meldonium two years ago.
But Tiley insisted there were no mixed messages, citing Sharapova’s status as a former champion, with the Russian lifting the trophy 10 years ago.
In the absence of Williams and Victoria Azarenka, who is embroiled in an ongoing custody battle over her son, Sharapova and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber are the only former winners in the draw.
With Kerber still competing at the tournament in Sydney, Tiley was happy to call on Sharapova.
“We wanted to have a former champion,” he said. “We were happy she accepted our invite. The adjudication has occurred on that [the drugs ban]. Maria deserved the opportunity.”
Sharapova has climbed to 47th in the rankings as she continues to work her way back from her 15-month doping ban.
But the Russian remains unseeded and has her work cut out to progress far in the draw, with 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova, who beat Sharapova at the US Open, a potential second-round opponent and Kerber likely to be waiting in round three.
This is set to be another wide open tournament in the absence of Williams, and Sharapova revealed she still believes she can be world No.1.
“That is the ultimate goal but I realise the depth of the game,” she said. “It’s for anyone to grab. I certainly will hope that I put myself in that position.”
Naomi Broady, meanwhile, battled through to the second round of qualifying but there were defeats for Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulter.
Broady, the seventh seed, dropped the second set to Kathinka von Deichmann of Liechtenstein but recovered to win 7-6 (7/4), 5-7, 6-3 in hot conditions in Melbourne.
The British No.3 will face Dutchwoman Bibiane Schoofs in the second round with three victories needed for a place in the main draw.
Norrie, the sixth seed in men’s qualifying, came through his first-round match on Wednesday and would have hoped to repeat his achievements at the US Open last summer.
In New York, the 22-year-old eased through qualifying before reaching the second round but here he was well beaten 6-4, 6-2 by Australian John-Patrick Smith.
Norrie has made rapid strides since turning professional last May and is set to make his Davis Cup debut for Britain in their first-round clash with Spain next month.
Norrie’s defeat leaves Kyle Edmund as the only British man in the main draw.
Johanna Konta and Heather Watson were direct entrants into the women’s draw but British No.4 Boulter will not be joining them.
She retired with a leg problem down 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 5-2 to America’s Kayla Day.
Source : HeraldScotland