Heat hovered around 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) as 2016 champion Angelique Kerber set up a meeting with Sharapova with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Donna Vekic in a 70-minute afternoon match at Margaret Court Arena.
She celebrated by twirling, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.
"It feels great to be back here, to be back on the tennis court, there I no better place for me to start playing after six months away that here in Australia".
A more focussed Sharapova stuck to her game plan and was able to prevail 7-4 in the breaker to capture the match 6-1, 7-6 (4).
Sharapova claimed she had not realised the drug had been added to the WADA list of banned substances but served a 15-month ban, returning a year ago to a mixed reception from her peers and tennis fans, although she was handed a wildcard into the US Open having been snubbed at Roland Garros.
Her ranking slid into the 20s in 2017, but she's coming back into the kind of form which makes her a title contender.
"I really enjoyed being back in Australia", said Kerber.
"I think it's going to be very interesting".
"There were a lot of firsts again for me - playing the first tournament, first grand slam, and just different feelings and what it would be routinely".
When Djokovic pulled out of warm-up tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Doha because of pain in his right elbow, there were doubts over whether he would be fit enough to play at Melbourne Park, where he shares the record of six titles with Roy Emerson. "I came in with the right emotion, grateful to have this opportunity". I never have intentionally thrown anybody out of the room.
Meanwhile, there were several upsets as Milos Raonic and Roberto Bautista Agut were knocked out by Lukas Lacko and Fernando Verdasco, respectively; in the women's draw, Andrea Petkovic beat Petra Kvitova 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 in a three-hour epic.
Sam Querrey was the latest of the leading USA men eliminated when he lost his second-round match 6-4, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-2 to 80th-ranked Marton Fucsovics. Two other USA contenders, No 8 Jack Sock and No 16 John Isner, were out on opening day.
The ninth seed will now square off with Tennys Sandgren of America in the second round.
Madison Brengle of the United States lost to Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-1.
Wawrinka argued neither his game nor his fitness were anywhere near where he would want them to be but he battled well to beat Ricardas Berankis 6-3 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7/2).
Halep, who lost back-to-back first-round matches here in the previous two years, will next play Eugenie Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon finalist who beat Oceane Dodin 6-3, 7-6 (5).