MELBOURNE: Wearing a dress being marketed as Statement Slam, Maria Sharapova delivered a message of intent.
The 24-year-old Russian beat American qualifier Jamie Hampton 6-0, 6-1 on Thursday to reach the third round. She won her first-round match by the same scoreline.
"For the first couple rounds, not having played competitively for a while, I feel pretty good," she said.
Sharapova's form was unknown coming into the tournament. She injured her left ankle in September and pulled out of a planned tuneup tournament at Brisbane as a precaution.
She hasn't been past the fourth round at the Australian Open since winning the title in 2008 — the last of her three Grand Slam titles. Sharapova missed out on defending her crown at Melbourne in 2009 because of shoulder surgery that sidelined her for nine months and disrupted her play for much longer.
Fit again, Sharapova is intent on adding to her major haul — starting in Melbourne, where she could face Serena Williams in the quarterfinals and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the last four.
"I've been on tour for many years," she said. "I've played many matches, many tournaments. I've never really been a player that just goes to a tournament to add a tournament on her agenda or, you know, go out there just to play.
"My goal is to be ready for the important ones, for the big ones. That's what matters at this stage in my career."
The Olympics in London also loom large for Sharapova, who missed the 2008 Games — again because of injury.
"This year is a big year for me because I'll be playing in the Olympics, which has been a dream of mine since I was a young girl," she said. "Growing up in Russia, tennis wasn't a big sport back then. It was all about being an Olympian, especially the winter sports."
Wearing a distinctive white dress with what her sponsor describes as an electric green trim, Sharapova was far too strong for Hampton, who was playing in the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
The 24-year-old Russian hit 23 winners to her opponent's six and was back in the locker room after 64 minutes. Her first-round win over Gisela Dulko took 58.
Victoria Azarenka has enjoyed a similarly easy run, winning both her matches 6-1, 6-0. The third-seeded Belarussian has been on court two minutes longer.
Sharapova brushed aside the suggestion that the women's tour lacks depth, for anyone looking only at lopsided results in the first two games of the Grand Slam.
"Sometimes we come out and we play three-set matches from the beginning, and then it's a question of, well, you're top 5 in the world, why is someone challenging you to three sets from the beginning?" she said.
"I think it's just an excuse to make another story. My goal is to go into a match and play my game. If I do it well enough and come out winning 6-0, 6-1, then I've done a good job."