Sharapova out of Aussie Open

MELBOURNE - Former champion Maria Sharapova was a high-profile casualty on the opening day of the Australian Open yesterday but there was no drama for Dinara Safina, who spearheaded the charge into the second round.

MELBOURNE - Former champion Maria Sharapova was a high-profile casualty on the opening day of the Australian Open yesterday but there was no drama for Dinara Safina, who spearheaded the charge into the second round.

Comeback queen Kim Clijsters also went through.

Sharapova was a shadow of her former self in a 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-4 defeat to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko. It was a disastrous start to the year for the 22-year-old, seeded 14, who opted to play only exhibitions in Thailand and Hong Kong as a warm-up to the opening Grand Slam of the season.

Playing with the roof closed on the Rod Laver Arena due to persistent rain, which disrupted play on outside courts, she struggled to find consistency against a player ranked 58.

"I certainly had my chances and just didn't execute," she said. "There is no grey area. It was just up and down in many areas, and just finished at the down level."

Another of the Russian contingent, Safina, downed Slovakia's 47th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4 6-4, while third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova also progressed.

"It was not an easy first-round match, she's a very good opponent," said No 2 seed Safina, who was thrashed in the final last year by Serena Williams.

Clijsters, who sensationally won the US Open last year after coming out of retirement, was too good for Canada's Valerie Tetreault, romping home 6-0 6-4 in under an hour.

The powerful Belgian and Justine Henin lurk as dark horses to bookmakers' favourite Williams, who gets her title defence under way today against Poland's Urszula Radwanska.

Former world No 1 Henin overpowered fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens 6-4 6-3. - Sapa-AFP

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