Sharapova exits in first round at Indian Wells


Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 16

Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova on Wednesday lost her second consecutive first-round match, falling to a 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Japan’s Naomi Osaka at the BNP Paribas Open in California.

Sharapova, who returned to tennis in April last year following a 15-month doping ban, has continued to struggle to find form this season as she dug herself into an early hole and never fully recovered.

Now ranked 41st in the world, Sharapova fought back from early breaks in both sets, but ultimately came up short on the key points in a performance that saw her commit six double faults and lose five service games to her 20-year-old opponent.

“I knew [Sharapova] would fight for everything, because I’ve watched her since I was little,” world No. 44 Osaka said in a courtside interview after winning the first meeting between the pair. “I was just really honored to play her.”

A two-time champion at Indian Wells, Sharapova won the Tianjin Open in October last year for her first triumph since returning to the WTA Tour, but has not come close to challenging for a tournament victory since.

In earlier action, American teenager Amanda Anisimova recorded her first top-level victory with a 6-2, 6-2 thrashing of Pauline Parmentier.

The 16-year-old’s poised and polished performance came in stark contact to the dismal display of Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who was humbled 6-3, 6-4 by American qualifier Sachia Vickery.

Anisimova, the junior women’s US Open champion, was stronger than 32-year-old Parmentier in every facet of the game on the slow, hard court in Indian Wells.

“It’s very exciting. I’ve worked really hard for this, so I’m proud of myself,” Anisimova told Tennis Channel, adding that adjusting to the senior ranks had been more mental than physical.

“The biggest thing is being tough mentally. I’ve learned about how to just be stronger during matches,” she said.

She is to face Russian 23rd seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.

Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, who was also a teenage prodigy, but has had her career blighted by injury, also advanced by overcoming an awful start and seeing off a match point to beat Hungarian Timea Babos 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7/4).

Former world No. 5 Bouchard was outclassed by 100th-ranked Vickery. Her weak second serve was particularly costly, as Vickery pounced time and again in front of a sparse late-afternoon crowd on center court.