Sharapova knocked out in Qatar Open first round

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Maria Sharapova loses at Stuttgart Open semis
Maria Sharapova: knocked out of Qatar Open

Maria Sharapova, five time Grand Slam winner, suffered a shock defeat in the first round of the Qatar Open on Monday, dumped out in three sets by outsider Monica Niculescu.

The Romanian, ranked number 92 in the world, 51 places behind the Russian, won 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

In a match lasting more than two and a half hours, Sharapova hit 52 unforced errors as opposed to just 17 from Niculescu.

In blustery conditions, Sharapova also struggled to get to grips with the 30-year-old Niculescu’s distinctive style, which relies heavily on a sliced forehand.

The former world number one, twice a winner in Doha, had been given a wildcard into the draw and was one the tournament’s major attractions.

Monica Niculescu: upsets Sharapova

“I did a good job of winning the longer rallies, even though that’s not really what I wanted to get myself into,” said Sharapova afterwards.

It was the 30-year-old’s first appearance in Doha since 2013 and her first match since losing to Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Australian Open last month.

Sharapova returned to tennis last April after completing a 15-month ban for failing a drug test.

A jubilant Niculescu described it afterwards as “a very good win” as well as “a tough match”.

Niculescu’s reward is to play either Magdalena Rybarikova or wildcard Fatma Al-Nabhani in the next round.

Nine of the top ten women’s players are competing in Doha this week, but arguably Sharapova was the biggest attraction.

The competition could see a repeat of the Australian Open final as the world’s new number one Carolina Wozniacki, and the woman she beat in Melbourne, Simona Halep, are seeded one and two in Doha.


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