MELBOURNE • Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova admitted to not knowing if she will be back for the Australian Open next year after a first-round defeat in the Grand Slam event yesterday.
The former world No. 1, playing on a wild card, is set to drop below No. 350 in the rankings following her 6-3, 6-4 defeat on centre court by Croatian 19th seed Donna Vekic.
Her third first-round exit in a row at the Slams will increase speculation over the 32-year-old's future.
"I don't know, I don't know," said the world No. 145, when asked if she sees herself back in Melbourne Park. "It's tough for me to tell what's going to happen in 12 months' time."
The 2008 champion, who reached the fourth round last year, was similarly vague about the months or even weeks ahead.
"Honestly, I'd give you the answer. I just don't know," she said about what tournaments she will play. "I haven't thought of my schedule moving forward from here yet."
Despite a sharp decline since her runner-up finish to Serena Williams in Australia in 2015, she has retained her status as one of the best-known tennis players.
She played only 15 matches last year after missing large chunks of the year with a shoulder injury, finishing with an 8-7 record. In a sign of her enduring pulling power, she was handed the biggest stage, the Rod Laver Arena, where she showed flashes of her old form. But she carried a haunted look at times.
After losing the first set in 36 minutes, she went 4-1 up in the second set. But Vekic struck back and sealed victory on her second match point when the Russian fired wildly wide. Sharapova last lost in the first round of this tournament in 2010.
She has struggled for form and fitness since returning from the 15-month ban for taking meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
"I can speak about my struggles with my shoulder, but it's not really in my character to," she said. "As tough as it was, I finished the match."
MEN'S 1ST RD
Nick Kyrgios (Aus) bt Lorenzo Sonego (Ita) 6-2 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-1), Dominic Thiem (Aut) bt Adrian Mannarino (Fra) 6-3 7-5 6-2, Daniil Medvedev (Rus) bt Frances Tiafoe (USA) 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-2 , Alexander Zverev (Ger) bt Marco Cecchinato (Ita) 6-4 7-6 (7-4) 6-3, Gael Monfils (Fra) bt Lu Yen-hsun (Tpe) 6-1 6-4 6-2.
WOMEN'S 1ST RD
Simona Halep (Rou) bt Jennifer Brady (USA) 7-6 (7-5) 6-1, Elina Svitolina (Ukr) bt Katie Boulter (Gbr) 6-4 7-5, Garbine Muguruza (Esp) bt Shelby Rogers (USA) 0-6 6-1 6-0, Kiki Bertens (Ned) bt Irina Begu (Rou) 6-1 6-4 6-2 4-6 6-4, Angelique Kerber (Ger) bt Elisabetta Cocciaretto (Ita) 6-2 6-2, Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Kristina Mladenovic (Fra) 6-1 7-5.
She did not take much notice of her plummeting ranking.
She said: "Last year, I played seven or eight tournaments so I don't know if I can look at the ranking and really think about it in depth. Just because I really haven't played and I was injured most of the year."
Men's world No. 1 Rafael Nadal cannot better his ranking but can match Roger Federer's record of 20 Slam titles if he is the last man standing at Melbourne Park.
The Spaniard began his campaign with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 annihilation of Bolivian Hugo Dellien.
He can also become the first man in the Open era to win all four Majors at least twice. Federer and Novak Djokovic have both won the French Open only once.
But it is a big ask for Nadal, 33, who has won the Melbourne title only once (in 2009) and has four runner-up finishes.
He said: "I don't care about 20... I just care about trying to keep going. It's not like 20 is the number I need to reach. I'm super happy about all the things I did in my tennis career.
"I am very satisfied about my tennis career because I give it all most of the time. That's the only thing that matters."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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