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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Australian Open Day 2: Sharapova knocked out; Halep, Pliskova advance

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam title winner, was given a wild card for the main draw at Melbourne Park after her year-end ranking slipped to 136.

By: Reuters | Updated: January 21, 2020 5:47:16 pm
Former No. 1-ranked Maria Sharapova’s run of first-round exits at the majors continued (Source: Reuters)

Former champion Maria Sharapova made her earliest Australian Open exit in a decade on Tuesday and said she was unsure whether her troublesome shoulder injury would allow her to return next year.

In the main draw on a wild card with a world ranking of 145, the 32-year-old Russian put up a dogged mid-match fight on Rod Laver Arena before crumpling to a 6-3 6-4 defeat at the hands of Donna Vekic.

It was only Sharapova’s second competitive outing since last September’s U.S. Open, where she fell at the first hurdle to Serena Williams.

Five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova cut a forlorn figure in the post-match press conference as she was questioned about her injury problems.

“I’m not the only one,” she said. “You know, I can speak about my struggles and the things that I’ve gone through with my shoulder, but it’s not really in my character to. So, I was there. I put myself out there. As tough as it was, I finished the match and, yeah, it wasn’t the way that I wanted.”

PLISKOVA ADVANCES TO SECOND ROUND

Second seed Karolina Pliskova got exactly what she needed in her 6-1 7-5 victory over a determined Kristina Mladenovic on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday to advance to the second round of the Australian Open.

Czech Pliskova will next play either Germany’s Laura Siegemund or American wildcard CoCo Vandeweghe.

“I think it was quite good for first match,” Pliskova told reporters. “Of course the match was not easy. So I think, yeah, it was a good test for a first round.”

“I think it starts always with me.” said the Czech. “If I play good and fast enough, deep enough, then there is not much she can do.

HALEP DIGS DEEP TO WIN

Simona Halep overcame a poor start and a fiery opponent at the Australian Open to prevail 7-6(5) 6-1 over big-hitting American Jennifer Brady in their first round encounter on Tuesday.

The Romanian fourth seed was broken in the very first game of the match and later took a nasty tumble during a punishing rally at 5-5 in the first set.

After a medical timeout, Halep began playing more aggressively, eventually edging out Brady in a tense tie-break to take the opening set. A break early in the second set put Halep back in command and she clinched the match after 1 hour and 36 minutes.

KONTA PHILOSOPHICAL AFTER EARLY EXIT

British number one Johanna Konta was philosophical about her first-round exit from the Australian Open on Tuesday in only her second match since last year’s U.S. Open.

The 12th seed, clearly not yet match fit on her return from a knee injury that cut short her 2019 season, lost 6-4 6-2 to Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in just over an hour on court one.

A semi-finalist at Melbourne Park four years ago and Roland Garros last year, Konta sprayed 19 unforced errors and struggled to hold her serve throughout the contest but still bounded into the press conference room with a smile on her face.

“It’s an unfortunate thing. It’s part of the sport and it’s part of also the way I play, and it’s something that will come with time and matches,” she told reporters.

“I think ultimately the main thing was to start playing again, and I am. And how I physically felt out there is obviously a massive tick for me compared to where I was in September of last year.

BENCIC ROLLS INTO SECOND ROUND

The Belinda Bencic bandwagon is rolling again after her maiden Grand Slam semi-final appearance at last year’s U.S. Open, but given her extended run of injuries and dips in form the Swiss is reluctant to jump on board too quickly.

Bencic, who advanced to the second round at Melbourne Park on Tuesday with a 6-3 7-5 win over Slovakia’s Anna Schmiedlova, knows only too well how quick hopes can be dashed.

Her recent run at Flushing Meadows came five years after her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final in New York where the then-17-year-old was feted as a potential successor to compatriot Martina Hingis.

In the intervening years, wrist surgery and a string of other fitness problems repeatedly robbed her of momentum and confidence and getting back to her best took plenty of patience. But it all came together in a rush last year as she claimed titles at Dubai and Moscow before sneaking into the season-ending WTA Finals for the first time.

Seeded sixth at the Australian Open, her highest at a Slam, Bencic is being seen as a Grand Slam contender again and the 22-year-old said the billing did give her confidence.

“It does, but on the other side it doesn’t buy me anything,” she told reporters after her win over Schmiedlova. “It doesn’t matter anymore that I played Grand Slam semi-final in U.S. Open. Now it’s a new Grand Slam and I still have to win my matches to get there eventually again.said.

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