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Qatar Open 2018: Maria Sharapova knocked out in the first round

394   //    13 Feb 2018, 02:08 IST

2018 Australian Open - Day 6
Shock defeat for Maria Sharapova

Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova’s campaign at the Qatar Open 2018 was cut short as she fell in the first round to Romania’s Monica Niculescu at Doha on Monday. The former World No. 1, who had received a wildcard at this WTA Premier 5 event, squandered a one-set lead to go down 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to the qualifier in a marathon battle that lasted 2 hours 38 minutes.

Sharapova, who is now ranked 41st, committed 52 unforced errors and 11 double faults that brought about her downfall. The Russian, who was playing in Doha for the first time since 2013, looked well on course for a victory after clinching a tight first set with three breaks of serve.

But the two-time champion was frustrated by the Romanian’s use of frequent slice from thereon and conceded five breaks of serve in the final two sets as her error count kept mounting.

In some of the other matches of the day, former Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6(8), 6-4. Agnieszka Radwanska progressed to the second round with a hard-fought 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over Germany’s Mona Barthel.

19-year-old Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova sent the 23rd ranked Elena Vesnina packing 6-1, 6-3 while 18-year-old American qualifier Cici Bellis won when World No. 24 Daria Kasatkina retired, trailing 5-7, 1-4.

Wozniacki faces tough challenge

The draw is headed by the reigning Australian Open champion and World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki while the Australian Open runner-up Simona Halep is the second seed, which makes for an exciting prospect of a rematch of their enthralling final clash.

But both of them face quite a few challengers along the way as the biggest stars of WTA have assembled in Doha this week. Halep has a potential quarter-final meeting with the fifth seed and former World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, with the Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza awaiting in the next round.

For the new Grand Slam champion Wozniacki, the test is even sterner. She has the Sydney champion Angelique Kerber in her quarter and the St Petersburg winner Petra Kvitova as her possible semi-final opponent. Both of them have been in scintillating form of late and would be a huge threat for the Dane.