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Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Monday, 18 January 2010

Maria Sharapova crashes out of the Australian Open

Venue: Melbourne Park Date: 18-31 January
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Maria Sharapova
Sharapova paid the price for an erratic display

Maria Sharapova was sent crashing out of the Australian Open at the first hurdle, losing 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-4 to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.

The 2008 champion, seeded 14th, made 77 unforced errors and served 11 double faults as the world number 58 won in three hours and 20 minutes.

Justine Henin beat Kirsten Flipkens 6-4 6-3 in her first Grand Slam match since coming out of retirement.

Second seed Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Kim Clijsters also won.

Henin, who won the Australian Open in 2004, will face fifth seed Elena Dementieva in the second round after the Russian crushed her compatriot Vera Dushevina 6-2 6-1.

Clijsters, a finalist here in 2004 and seeded 15th this year, took just over an hour to see off Canadian qualifier Valerie Tetreault 6-0 6-4.

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

Maria Sharapova

Third seed Kuznetsova was also untroubled as she swept past Australia's Anastasia Rodionova with a 6-1 6-2 victory.

The Russian had been deeply worried about her form leading into the tournament - she made an unexpected early exit from the Sydney International - but put that all aside in a clinical performance.

"I was focused today and I think I played a pretty good match," she said.

For Sharapova though, it is back to the drawing board after an error-strewn performance in her first competitive match of 2010.

Kirilenko grew in confidence once it became clear that her childhood friend was still struggling with her serve and mobility around the court.

Sharapova played no singles tennis at all between July 2008 and May 2009 as she recovered from shoulder surgery, and she has now gone out before the third round of her last three Grand Slams.

At times, only her trademark tenacity prolonged the match, which was played under the roof at the Rod Laver Arena because of the wet weather in Melbourne.

A despondent Sharapova said: "I certainly had my chances and just didn't execute.

"When she was up and then I'd get back there, back in the game, I just didn't take advantage of that and I let her control the situation again."

It was Sharapova's earliest exit at a Grand Slam since 2003, and she has managed just one major quarter-final since winning in Melbourne in 2008.

"It's a bad day and you have to get on with your life. There are many worse situations in life," said the former world number one.

Maria Kirilenko
Kirilenko was stronger once the match reached three hours

"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. I'll be back here on a Saturday of the second week, so you'll watch."

Kirilenko added: It's never easy. I'm good friends with Maria, but I tried my best to win today - I came here quite confident."

Henin was playing only her second tournament since making a comeback from an 18-month retirement. The seven-time Grand Slam champion was always in control against her younger rival, wrapping up the match in 73 minutes.

Henin, 27, said: "In the second round I'll have to play very good tennis. Dementieva is number five in the world so it's going to be a great challenge for me to play that kind of match very early in the tournament."

Henin, who won the Australian Open in 2004, retired in May 2008, saying she no longer had the motivation. But soon after Clijsters won the US Open on her own comeback last September, Henin announced that she too would return.

She played her first tournament in Brisbane, losing to Clijsters in the final but showing she had lost few of her skills or her renowned tenacity.

Clijsters felt she was taking plenty of momentum through with her after her successful Brisbane campaign.


But she added: "I think in Brisbane I was a little bit inconsistent once in a while during my matches. That's something that I'm really trying to focus on, trying to make sure I stay consistent.

"Or even when I feel like my level is dropping a little bit, that I jump on it straight away or that I notice it - that's what I'm working on."

Safina, last year's runner-up, was made to battle before beating Magdalena Rybarikova, of Slovakia, 6-4 6-4.

The Russian hit nine double faults and made 39 unforced errors before eventually overcoming her opponent, who is ranked 47th in the world.

She will play either qualifier Regina Kulikova or Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic in her next match.

Safina said: "Let's say it was not an easy first round match. She played very well.

"But I can start to build up much more confidence and using more of my shots. I had some good moments and bad moments, but overall I'm happy I went through, and I'm pretty satisfied with everything."

Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer, the world number 16 who had to qualify for the main draw because she was initially ineligible for the tournament after being banned for missing doping tests, continued her progress after coming through a marathon encounter with Romania's Alexandra Dulgheru, winning 1-6 7-5 10-8.

The second night match on Rod Laver, involving the 27th seed Alisa Kleybanova and Australia's Jelena Dokic, did not go the way the home fans wanted, the Russian winning 6-1 7-5 in a match that finished just before midnight.

The rain pushed 14 women's singles matches into Tuesday, the most high-profile of those being eighth seed Jelena Jankovic's match against Monica Niculescu.

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see also
Baltacha battles into round two
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Rampant Murray races to victory
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Champion Nadal wins opening match
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Australian Open photos - day one
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Henin brings good times back
14 Jan 10 |  Tennis
Order of play
23 May 09 |  Tennis
Men's singles draw
26 Aug 11 |  Tennis
Women's singles draw
28 Jan 10 |  Tennis
Tennis on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Tennis

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