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Sharapova deserved special honour: Oz Open boss

By Eleanor Crooks

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has defended the decision to invite Maria Sharapova to the draw ceremony.

With defending champion Serena Williams ruled out as she doesn't feel ready to compete following the birth of her daughter Olympia, organisers chose Sharapova to represent the women.

The Russian entered Margaret Court Arena carrying the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup - 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.

In the absence of Williams and Victoria Azarenka, who is embroiled in a custody battle over baby son Leo, 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 30-year-old 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.

Sharapova revealed she still believes she can be world number one.

"That is the ultimate goal but I realise the depth of the game," she said. "It's for anyone to grab. I hope I put myself in that position."

• Naomi Broady battled through to the second round of qualifying at the Australian Open but there were defeats for fellow Britons Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulter.

Broady beat Kathinka von Deichmann 7-6 (7/4) 5-7 6-3 and will face Bibiane Schoofs in what is the penultimate round of qualifying.

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