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Kirilenko stuns former champ Sharapova in three


 

Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:52

She had been touted as a contender for the title on her return to Melbourne Park, but Maria Sharapova’s Australian Open is over after a first round defeat to compatriot and friend Maria Kirilenko.

The 2008 champion, who missed her title defence last year with the shoulder injury that blighted her season, went down 7-6(4) 3-6 6-4 in the tournament’s opening match under the roof on Rod Laver Arena as rain disrupted play around the grounds.

The No.14 seed, whose quarter-final run at Roland Garros was followed by a second round exit at Wimbledon and a third round defeat at the US Open, looked a shadow of herself as she committed 66 unforced errors and hit 11 double faults over the course of the three-hour 21-minute match.

The Russian struggled to find consistency against world No.58 Kirilenko, and will face criticism for electing to play exhibitions in Thailand and Hong Kong rather than WTA events ahead of the year’s first slam.

“I certainly had my chances and just didn’t execute,” she said. “There is no grey area. It was just up and down in many areas, and just finished at the down level.”

There were no such dramas for Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Dinara Safina, who each wrapped up straight-sets wins in their first-round matches.

US Open champion Clijsters issued a statement of intent with a 6-0 6-4 demolition of Valerie Tetreault.

The Belgian No.15 seed took just 23 minutes to wrap up the first set, firing 35 winners as she gave the Canadian qualifier no chance.

No.2 seed Dinara Safina didn’t quite have it all her own way against Magdalena Rybarikova during her 6-4 6-4 win.

Last year’s beaten finalist hit 28 winners and 39 unforced errors in a mixed performance as she continues to look shaky on her return from injury.

No.3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova powered her way into the second round with a 6-1 6-2 win over Anastasia Rodionova.

And with the day’s schedule extended into the evening by the rain, Justine Henin made a winning return in Melbourne with a 6-4 6-3 victory over compatriot Kirsten Flipkens.

Meanwhile, Yanina Wickmayer and Flavia Pennetta were forced to dig deep to post three-set wins to reach the second round.

World No.16 Wickmayer, who was forced to come through qualifying to play in Melbourne, posted a 1-6 7-5 10-8 victory over Romania’s Alexandra Dulgheru.

And No.12 seed Flavia Pennetta of Italy saw off Anna Chakvetadze 6-3 3-6 6-2.

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