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Sharapova to miss Australian Open

AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Venue: Melbourne Park Date: 19 January-1 February
Coverage: BBC Red Button, BBC One & Two (including all Andy Murray matches), Radio 5 Live sports extra, BBC Sport website (Red Button coverage streamed on website throughout fortnight)


Maria Sharapova
Sharapova says her shoulder is 'doing great' but she is not yet ready to play

Defending champion Maria Sharapova has been forced to pull out of the Australian Open with a shoulder injury.

The 21-year-old is taking longer than expected to recover from an operation and said she was "very sorry" to miss out on defending her title.

"My shoulder is doing great, but I just started training a few weeks ago. I am just not near the level I need to be to compete at the top level," she said.

The first Grand Slam tournament of 2009 starts in Melbourne on 19 January.

Sharapova, a three-time Grand Slam champion, has not played since Montreal in August because of her injury, and missed both the Olympics and the US Open.

The Russian dominated last year's Australian Open and did not drop a set on her way to taking the title, which she won by beating Ana Ivanovic in the final.

606: DEBATE

"The Australian Open is one of my favourite tournaments, they have the best fans in the world and I am going to miss everything about the tournament," she said.

"I promise I will see everyone next year."

Tournament Director Craig Tiley said: "I know she has been working around the clock to try and get back from the shoulder injury. In the end, time beat her this year.

"We wish her well with her return to tennis and look forward to seeing her back in Melbourne next year. Maria is always welcome here."

Meanwhile, prize money at the tournament has been increased this year, with the singles winners each receiving A$2m (927,000) and the runners-up A$1m (464,000).

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