Former Aussie Open champ and No. 14 seed Maria Sharapova made the highest-profile exit on the opening day in Melbourne Monday, falling 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-4 in an all-Maria, all-Russian match to compatriot Maria Kirilenko.
Whether it was the former No. 1’s tentative play or the beginnings of a mustache she exhibited in close-ups during her post-match conference that were more stunning, nonetheless the Russian clearly paid for her lack of match play entering the event, choosing Asian exhibition cash-grabs over playing WTA events entering the first Grand Slam of the year.
“I don’t really know what ‘match practice’ has to do with being up 4-2, 15-40 and not making a second serve return, so…” Sharapova told reporters in her post-match conference. “Whether it’s just a little bit of, um, you know, maybe confidence, um, obviously it’s the first tournament of the year and, you know, I just came up against somebody that just played really good tennis. That’s just the way it goes.”
It was Sharapova’s earliest exit from a Grand Slam since the 2003 French Open as Operation Shoulder Your Confidence (get it? huh? ha!) continues for the Russian. Last year she lost in the second round at the US Open.
“It’s never easy. I’m good friends with Maria,” Kirilenko told the media. “I tried my best to win today — I came here quite confident.”
The day was less difficult for No. 2-seeded Dinara Safina, who was unspectacular yet steady again Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-4.
“Let’s say it was not an easy first-round match,” Safina said. “She’s a very good opponent. She plays very good. I had some good moments and bad moments, but overall I’m happy I went through, and I’m pretty satisfied with everything…Just from this I can start to build up much more confidence and using more my shots.”
Other Top 10 seeds in action were (3) Svetlana Kuznetsova rolling over Aussie Anastasia Rodionova 6-1, 6-2, and (5) Elena Dementieva pummeling fellow Russian Vera Dushevina 6-2, 6-1.
The Belgian comeback players advanced out of the opening round Monday, with No. 15 Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin both winning in straight sets.
“It wasn’t easy conditions for me to play my first match in Grand Slam for a long time,” Henin said of the rain delays. “It’s been difficult conditions today. I’ve been lucky I could play. I mean, so I was happy with that. In the match, it wasn’t that easy because there wasn’t a lot of rhythm. So I was feeling a bit with no energy at the beginning, you know, after the long wait.”
In other unseeded action, Aussie Jelena Dokic’s campaign was a short one, losing in straight sets to No. 27 seed Alisa Kleybanova. Yanina Wickmayer, forced to play through the qualifying, was a first-round winner, and Jie Zheng defeated Shuai Peng in a lopsided all-Chinese battle 0-6, 6-1, 6-2.
“The first one, well, it wasn’t too long, so I just try to stay warm and go on court again,” Wickmayer said of surviving two rain delays. “The second one I ate something, since it was a long time I haven’t eat. So I went to get some treatment for my back, which was hurting a lot. Warmed up again and went back on court.”
Dokic will see a rankings drop after last year reaching the quarterfinals.
“It was a poor performance. Yeah, very disappointed with today,” Dokic said. “Yeah, this whole month hasn’t been great. It’s unfortunate and I would have liked to have played better. But, you know, in a way I’m glad it’s over. I can move on. I have to really refocus on.”
Tuesday’s highlights include (1) Serena Williams vs. Urszula Radwanska, Julie Coin vs. Alicia Molik, Lucie Safarova vs. (4) Venus Williams in an upset alert, American Shenay Perry vs. (20) Ana Ivanovic, (26) Aravane Rezai vs. embattled Indian princess Sania Mirza, embattled American Melanie Oudin vs. Alla Kudryavtseva, French comer Alize Cornet vs. (17) Francesca Schiavone, and (25) Anabel Medina “Funky Cold” Garrigues vs. Karolina “The Spreminator” Sprem.
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