Sharapova vexed with inconsistent displays

Maria Sharapova hitting a return against Naomi Osaka during their first-round match at Indian Wells. The former world No. 1 dropped serve five times in her 6-4, 6-4 defeat by the Japanese world No. 44. The Russian was also knocked out in the opening
Maria Sharapova hitting a return against Naomi Osaka during their first-round match at Indian Wells. The former world No. 1 dropped serve five times in her 6-4, 6-4 defeat by the Japanese world No. 44. The Russian was also knocked out in the opening round of the Qatar Open last month.PHOTO: REUTERS

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

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2018, with the headline 'Sharapova vexed with inconsistent displays'. Print Edition | Subscribe