MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria
Sharapova was upset by Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-4 in the first
round of the Australian Open on Monday, the latest in a string of poor
Grand Slam performances for the Russian superstar.
The 14th-seeded Sharapova was unable
to defend her 2008 Australian Open championship while sidelined 10
months because of right shoulder surgery. She then failed to advance
beyond the quarterfinals in the other three majors last year.
The loss to Kirilenko was her earliest exit at a Grand Slam since the 2003 French Open.
Kirilenko will join Dinara Safina in
the second round, after her 6-4, 6-4 win over Magdalena Rybarikova of
Slovakia in the first match completed on a rainy day at Melbourne Park.
The second-seeded Safina was the runner-up to Serena Williams last
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 the No. 58-ranked Kirilenko to square their four career
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, though, her last forehand
“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, who lost in the first
round last year, will play Austrian qualifier Yvonne Meusburger, who
beat Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
Kirilenko’s best run at a Grand Slam came at the Australian Open in 2008.
Safina made 30 unforced errors and
was erratic at times, but had no serious problems handling No.
47-ranked Rybarikova in her second tournament since a back problem
forced her out of the season-ending championship in October.
“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.”
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 (8-6) 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
On the men’s side, No. 24 Ivan
Ljubicic 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, Henin’s first
tournament since she quit while holding the No. 1 ranking in May 2008.
Williams has won three of the seven
majors since Henin last played the Australian Open. She 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