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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sharapova exits as other seeds advance

Maria Sharapova is out of Wimbledon. Perhaps that is worth repeating: Maria Sharapova will play no further part in the 123rd Wimbledon Championships.

The crowd favourite and 2004 champion was beaten in three fraught and painful sets by Gisela Dulko 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the second round, her worst result here since – well, since here last year.

Of course, she has only been back in action for just over a month after surgery on a long-term shoulder injury. Still feeling her way back, she is nowhere near her best yet.

Given the chance to dispatch a wounded superstar, Dulko leapt on it. Pulling Sharapova into parts of the court she did not like – the net being one of them – she was within touching distance of a place in the third round before the hour was up. Had it not been for her own nerves and Sharapova’s famed fighting spirit, she could have been back in the locker room in two sets.

But once Sharapova had completed a run of seven straight games to level the sets and take the early lead in the third, it became blindingly obvious that the Russian was running out of steam.

Her shoulder could not take a two hour workout and as the Sharapova serve disintegrated, Dulko gathered her courage in both hands and closed out the match on her fifth match point.

“I just couldn’t go up and hit my serve with the same velocity as the first two sets,” Sharapova said. “I thought I served pretty good the first two sets. But as far as pace, I thought it really slowed down. I didn’t have enough juice on it.”

For Sharapova, the future remains uncertain. In order to get back to what she would regard as an acceptable level, she needs to play matches, but in order to put a string of matches together, her shoulder needs to be strong enough to win some of them. So, for now, it is back to the drawing board.

Elsewhere on the courts of Wimbledon, it was a largely routine day.

Leading lights Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva advanced with the minimum of fuss.

One of the men tipped as a dark horse in the draw, Croatia's Marin Cilic, was given Centre Court billing for his “battle of the big hitters” with American Sam Querrey (and the crowd was treated to a five-set battle that proved a big hit).

And German Tommy Haas won some more fans on No.1 Court. After his match against Michael Llodra ended abruptly with the Frenchman’s bizarre injury (a collision with umpire’s chair and ballgirl), he gave the crowd a bit more value for money with a brief knock-up against the ballgirls and ballboys.

All this only left one big question to be answered. Where was Mirka Federer, the usually ever-present wife of Roger who is eight-and-a-half months pregnant and was not in the Centre Court box today to watch his straight sets romp past Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
In the post-match press conference, Mr Federer explained that Mrs Federer was feeling a little less than 100% (not something that could be said about his on-court displays so far) and was relaxing away from the action.

But he was still keeping mum on the subject everyone wanted an answer to – when exactly is baby Federer expected to put in an appearance? If Mirka doesn’t return to watch his next match, it may be wise to wonder whether baby number one might just arrive in time to witness Wimbledon title number six.

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