Melbourne: Former champion Maria Sharapova put up a mid-match fight before bowing out of the Australian Open at the first hurdle on Tuesday, beaten 6-3, 6-4 by Croatian Donna Vekic at the Rod Laver Arena.
The 32-year-old Russian was clearly still hampered by the shoulder injury that had restricted her to one previous competitive outing since her opening-round exit at last year's US Open.
Vekic proved a formidable opponent on the court where Sharapova won the title in 2008 and the 19th seed raced to a 5-1 lead in the opening set before the former world No. 1 found a way to get back into the contest.
Sharapova made Vekic work hard to close out the set and took a 4-1 lead in the second but was unable to maintain her momentum, losing the last five games to make her earliest exit from Melbourne Park since 2010.