After the 15-month long suspension, imposed in 2016 for violating anti-doping regulations, Sharapova made her comeback to tennis in April past year.
She was controversially back on on Margaret Court Arena, chatting with Hamish McLachlan on Thursday night, with Open officials copping condemnation for the interview broadcast on the Seven Network.
Williams - who decided not to defend her title because of the birth of her daughter in September - would normally have had that honour, and the tournament director, Craig Tiley, was asked if he thought it appropriate to so honour a tarnished player, who is ranked 47 in the world. The challenge we always have this week is that there is the Sydney event, the Hobart event and there are also other events.
"In fairness to Maria, the adjudication has occurred on that".
"In her autobiography a year ago, Sharapova observed of Williams, who has a 19-2 career record over her: "[Her] physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realise watching TV.
Sharapova is Russia's most decorated tennis player having won a total of five Grand Slam tournaments, namely the Australian Open in 2008, the French Open in 2012 and 2014, Wimbledon in 2004 and the US Open in 2006.
'We wanted to have a former champion, ' Tiley explained. "I hope I put myself in that position". With no Serena in the field, the opportunities open up again in what should be an entertaining and unpredictable draw.
Sharapova's unseeded this year and has drawn Germany's Tatjana Maria in the first round.
The 30-year-old reached at least the semifinals in four straight years beginning in 2005, completing that run by winning her third major.
"I watched the whole tournament and I remember it very well", she said. It is [50 years] since she won.