x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sharapova makes early exit from Australia

The Russian loses to compatriot Maria Kirilenko in her first appearance at Melbourne Park since winning the championship two years ago.

The 2008 Australian Open champion reacts after her first round loss to Maria Kirilenko at the Rod Laver arena in Melbourne.
The 2008 Australian Open champion reacts after her first round loss to Maria Kirilenko at the Rod Laver arena in Melbourne.

Maria Sharapova's belated return to Melbourne lasted three hours and 21 minutes as her friend and compatriot, Maria Kirilenko, dumped her out the Australian Open yesterday. The first-round loss was the earliest the three-time grand slam winner has exited a tournament since her defeat at the same stage in the 2003 French Open. En route to the biggest win of her career, Kirilenko showed no respect to the former champion's superior ranking, mercilessly capitalising on Sharapova's 66 unforced errors and 11 double faults for a 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 victory. Sharapova, 22, the 2008 tournament champion and 14th seed, has suffered something of a loss of form recently, but was still expected to beat the 58th-ranked Kirilenko, also 22.

Sharapova, who was unable to defend her title last year because of a shoulder injury, appeared philosophical in defeat. "I just didn't win the match - bottom line," said the Russian, who has 20 career titles to her name compared with Kirilenko's five. "I certainly had my chances and just didn't execute. I felt like she was up and then I'd get back in the game. I just didn't take advantage of that and let her control the situation." A first-round defeat was not the seasonal debut Sharapova was hoping for after failing to progress past the quarter-finals in the three majors she contested last year. "That's just the way it goes. You know, it's just a bad day," she said.

"A bad day's not going to stop me from doing what I love. I'm still going to go back on the court and work hard and perform." Kirilenko, whose best result in a grand slam came in Melbourne in 2008, when she reached the fourth round, said that even while losing the second set, she began to believe she could beat her illustrious countrywoman thanks to her first set tie-break win. "I think it's one of the best wins for me," said Kirilenko, who has not won a title since Seoul in 2008. "I started to feel much better in the second set actually. I started to feel I can be aggressive as well. "I did more winners than in first set. From that point, I started to feel that, 'Yeah, I'm playing good from the baseline and I can beat her'."

Kirilenko faces Yvonne Meusburger in the second round after the Austrian beat Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, while the Russian's boyfriend, Igor Andreev, aims for a spot of giant-killing of his own against Roger Federer today. "I have already started the year loud, I think. So now it's his turn," said Kirilenko. The two highest-seeded Russians, Dinara Safina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, progressed in straight sets, although Safina wobbled against the Slovak, Magdalena Rybarikova. A shaky service game, resulting in nine double faults, and a string of unforced errors, characterised her early game, but Safina rallied to a 6-4, 6-4 win. Kuznetsova booked her place in the second round with a victory over Australia's Anastasia Rodionova. She dropped just three games in the 6-1, 6-2 match against the Russian-born home favourite and Kuznetsova next meets her compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Kim Clijsters, seeded 15th, breezed into the second round with a 6-0, 6-4 victory over a qualifier, Valerie Tetreault, and Justine Henin defeated Kirsten Flipkens, 6-4, 6-3 in an all-Belgian affair. Unseasonal rain held up play on the outside courts and the No 8 seed, Jelena Jankovic, was among the players who will have to wait until today to start her campaign, with the Serbian due to play Mon-ica Niculescu. The defending champion, Serena Williams, is in first-round action today when she meets the unseeded Urszula Radwanska of Poland. stregoning@thenational.ae

Rod Laver Arena From 4 am Han Xinyun (China) v 13- Samantha Stosur (Australia); 1- Serena Williams (US) v Urszula Radwanska (Poland); 1- Roger Federer (Switzerland) v Igor Andreev (Russia) From noon 22- Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) v Ricardo Hocevar (Brazil); Julie Coin (France) v Alicia Molik (Australia) Hisense Arena From 4 am 9- Fernando Verdasco (Spain) v Carsten Ball (Australia); 8- Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) v Monica Niculescu (Romania); 10- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France) v Sergiy Stakhovsky (Ukraine); Lucie Safarova (Czech Repubic) v 6- Venus Williams (US); 3- Novak Djokovic (Serbia) v Daniel Gimeno- Traver (Spain) Margaret Court Arena From 4 am Shenay Perry (US) v 20- Ana Ivanovic (Serbia); Matthew Ebden (Australia) v 12- Gael Monfils (France); Anastasiya Yakimova (Belarus) v Casey Dellacqua (Australia); Paolo Lorenzi (Italy) v Marcos Baghdatis (Cyprus); 20- Mikhail Youzhny (Russia) v Richard Gasquet (France)