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One of my blackhorse picks for the 2010 Australian Open has already come to a screeching halt in the first round. No, not the young, loud Michelle Larcher de Brito, who come to think of it has completely gone off the tennis radar, but the seasoned, 2008 Aussie Open champion, Maria Sharapova.
As Managing Editor of Tennis.com, Abigail Lorge, eloquently put it in her blog post, Monday Morning Kickoff, “In a baseline battle between two 22-year-old Russian glamazons, both named Maria, the 59th-ranked Kirilenko prevailed over No. 14 Sharapova, 7-6 (4) 3-6, 6-4. The first-round exit by Sharapova, one of three former Australian Open champions in the women’s draw, was the defining story of day one.”
It was an intensely close match, and a good effort from Maria Kirilenko, whose best Slam result came at the Sunny Slam in 2008 where she made it to the fourth round. On the flip side, Sharapova, who was a favorite to win the whole tournament, played a highly error prone game, making over 60 errors. Again, the question of Maria Sharapova’s shoulder comes into play. Can it be used as an excuse anymore? Maybe not.
Sharapova came into the Australian Open without playing in an actual tournament, instead using an exhibition in Hong Kong as her preparation. That in my opinion was a big mistake. Sharapova should be realizing that in this second career of hers, she needs more match play to get back into the swing of things.
In her press conference, Sharapova’s confidence and desire to win despite the disappointment was strong: “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, you’ll watch.”
Props to the lesser-known Maria for coming out the victor. Her next match will be against Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger. I see Kirilenko coming clean in two.
Peter Bodo provides some interesting commentary on Sharapova’s loss in a recent Tennis World blog post.
On the ATP side, there have also been some compelling stories. Two shockers on Day Two: the rising American star, Sam Querrey bowed out in four lop-sided sets to the 33-year old German veteran, Rainer Schuettler, while 2009 French Open Finalist Robin Soderling lost 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to Marcel Granollers.
It was a complete surprise that the loss came so quickly for the eight-seeded Soderling, although he hasn’t made it past the 2nd round in his career attempts at the Aussie Open. He holds a poor 2-4 record in the past. However, Soderling took out Granollers in the 2009 Wimbledon Championships on his way to the fourth round, and it looked like he was going to do the same with his two sets to one lead during the first half of the match.
Soderling’s recent string of success is impressive: first Slam final at the French, fourth round at Wimbledon, the quarterfinals at the US Open, and a fantastic finish to the year at the ATP World Tour Finals. Maybe he’s struggling with the new pressure having recently broken into the Top Ten in the beginning of this new tennis season. Injury could also be the issue as the Swede finds himself playing more tennis at a higher level later in his career. Whatever the case, I’m still not counting him out for the future.