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Maria Sharapova Exits In First-Round At Australian Open

Maria Sharapova lost at the Australian Open for the first time since winning the 2008 title in a 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4 opening-round exit Monday to Maria Kirilenko.  Sharapova, seeded 14th, was unable to defend
PTI January 18, 2010 14:35 IST

Maria Sharapova lost at the Australian Open for the first time since winning the 2008 title in a 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4 opening-round exit Monday to Maria Kirilenko. 

Sharapova, seeded 14th, was unable to defend her championship here last year after undergoing surgery on her right shoulder which kept her off the tour for 10 months. She didn't go beyond the quarterfinals at three other Grand Slam events last year. 

The loss to Kirilenko was Sharapova's earliest exit at a Grand Slam since the 2003 French Open. 

Kirilenko will join 2009 runner-up Dinara Safina in the second round. Second-seeded Safina had a 6-4, 6-4 win over Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia in the first match completed on a rainy day at Melbourne Park to start what she hopes will be another run to the final. 

The Marias, both Russian and both 22, clubbed 86 winners and made 118 unforced errors between them as they traded heavy ground strokes in a match that lasted 3 hours, 21 minutes and allowed No. 58-ranked Kirilenko to square their career head-to-heads 2-2. 

Sharapova kept going for winners despite twice being only two points away from losing the match. She ended up with 77 unforced errors and 11 double-faults. 

The former No. 1-ranked Sharapova rallied from 2-5 down in the deciding set, holding serve and then breaking Kirilenko's to stay in the match. 

She dropped her own serve after giving Kirilenko double match point, her last forehand landing wide. 

"Of course I had a tough draw," Kirilenko said. "It's never easy. I expected a good match and tried my best to win." 

Kirilenko next plays Austrian qualifier Yvonne Meusburger, who beat Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. 

Kirilenko's best run at a Grand Slam event was here in 2008 when she made the fourth round. She lost in the first round here last year. 

Safina made 30 unforced errors and was erratic at times, but had no serious problems handling No. 47-ranked Rybarikova in her first match here since a lopsided loss to Serena Williams in last year's final. 

"I'm really happy to be back," said Safina, whose brother Marat Safin won the 2005 Australian title. "People here, they love my brother, so thanks for giving me the same support you give my brother." 

It is Safina's second tournament since a back problem forced her out of the season-ending championship in October. 

Safina and Kirilenko played on the two covered courts at Melbourne Park. Matches on outside courts were delayed 45 minutes by rain, a change to the heat that usually confronts players at the first Grand Slam event of the season. 

Five matches were completed on outside courts until play was again suspended due to rain. 

No. 30 Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine had a 6-2, 7-6 (6) win over Romania's Raluca Olaru, Zheng Jie rallied to beat Peng Shuai 0-6, 6-1, 6-2 in an all-China match, and Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova 6-2, 6-4. 

On the men's side, No. 24 Ivan Ljubicic, playing his 11th consecutive Australian Open, had a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over 16-year-old wild card entry Jason Kubler, the youngest player in the draw. 

Kim Clijsters was due to play after Sharapova against Valerie Tetreault of Canada. Clijsters won the U.S. Open in September in her third tournament back from time off after getting married and having a baby. 

Justine Henin, a seven-time major winner, makes her Grand Slam comeback against fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens at Hisense Arena, the other main show court. Henin lost to Clijsters at the Brisbane International on Jan. 9, her first tournament since she quit while holding the No. 1 ranking in May 2008. 

Serena Williams has won three of the seven majors since Henin last played the Australian Open. Williams enters this tournament as defending champion and winner of the season-ending championship, but won't play until Tuesday in the top half of the draw. 

U.S. Open winner Juan Martin del Potro, No. 5 Andy Murray and No. 7 Andy Roddick highlight the early men's action. Del Potro withdrew from an exhibition tournament at Kooyong last week because of an injured wrist, but his agent said he's expected to be fine. 

Nadal, who beat Roger Federer in five sets in the final last year to win his first major on hardcourts, will start the night session at Rod Laver Arena against Australian Peter Luczak. AP