Rafael Nadal celebrates a win. He hasn't missed a beat.
The 17-time major victor hasn't played since retiring from his semifinal at the U.S. Open because of a knee injury, and then had surgery on his right ankle in November. "It's very special to be back". He returned the favor very quickly, though, to seal his spot in the second round.
Nadal, who is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era, and only the third man ever, to win each of the four Grand Slams twice, ran his opponent down with his superior court coverage and ability to hit winners under pressure.
He starts off against Denis Istomin on Rod Laver Arena.
Sharapova was far from flawless against Dart, committing three double faults and eight unforced errors, but was never threatened by the 22-year-old Londoner. She got seven of her 29 points from Sharapova's double-faults.
The former world number one said Andy Murray's announcement that this year's tournament Down Under would be his last had underlined her determination to make the most of her time in the spotlight.
The veteran five-time Grand Slam victor, who has struggled with injury since returning from a doping ban in 2017, showed glimpses of her old ruthless self to dispatch Dart in just 63 minutes. "I enjoy seeing the effort that I'm able to put in, and I think that hard work will always ultimately come to the surface". I don't know my percentage, but was a lot of good positions after the first serve. "I was glad that I did the right things from the beginning till the end".
Up next for Sharapova is Rebecca Peterson, who beat Sorana Cirstea, 6-4, 6-1.
Danielle Collins advanced to the second round of a major for the first time following a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over No. 14-seeded Julia Goerges, who won the title in Auckland to start the season.
Nadal swatted aside the home hope Duckworth 6-4 6-3 7-5 in a performance that eased concerns over his fitness ahead of the season's first major.
Nadal used all his experience to win his next service game from 15-30 down before breaking Duckworth again for the straight-sets win.
Fifth seed Kevin Anderson also progressed against Adrian Mannarino, with last year's Wimbledon finalist through 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. Also advancing on the men's side were No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili and No. 26 Fernando Verdasco.
Second seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, has an opening match against Slovakia's Polona Hercog, while Petra Kvitova, fresh from winning the Sydney International on Saturday, plays Magdalena Rybarikova.