LOS ANGELES • Maria Sharapova knows it will take a lot more work to get her stop-start season going after a second consecutive first-round exit, losing 4-6, 4-6 to Japan's Naomi Osaka on Wednesday at the WTA Indian Wells event.
The Russian, who is now ranked world No. 41, dug herself into a hole.
She suffered early breaks in both sets, fought back but came up short on the key points in a performance that saw her commit six double faults and lose five service games to world No. 44 Osaka.
Sharapova, a two-time winner in the California desert, was one of the event's major attractions after missing the last two editions, owing to her 15-month doping ban. She returned to tennis only last April.
"I would have loved to stay longer (but) it is just not going to happen this year," said the five-time Grand Slam winner.
The Russian has struggled to find form this season, crashing out of the Qatar Open in the opening round. She also reached the Shenzhen semi-finals, was routed by Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open third round and withdrew from the Dubai Open injured.
She said: "I've been working through a few physical things and that's been frustrating because there's been a lot of starts and stops since and that hasn't given me the match rhythm that I really wanted."
Her opponent, 10 years her junior, did not wilt under the spotlight in the pair's first meeting.
Said Osaka: "I knew (Sharapova) would fight for everything because I've watched her since I was little. I was just really honoured to play her." AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
ATP INDIAN WELLS
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