TENNIS

Sharapova pulls out of Australian Open

Reigning Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from this year's event because of a slower than expected recovery from a shoulder injury.

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AFP - Maria Sharapova will not defend her title at the Australian Open next week after withdrawing from the year's opening grand slam tournament, officials said Sunday.

The Russian world number nine advised tournament officials that she was not confident of her fitness levels after a shoulder surgery late last year.

The 21-year-old was hindered by a right shoulder injury much of last season and skipped the Beijing Olympics and the US Open before having arthroscopic surgery in October.

"I am very sorry to announce that I am not going to be able to defend my title at this year’s Australian Open," Sharapova said in a Tennis Australia statement.

"My shoulder is doing great, but I just started training a few weeks ago and I am just not near the level I need to be to compete at the highest levels."

Sharapova did not drop a set on the way to winning her third grand slam in Australia last January.

She went on to win her first 18 matches of the season and reclaimed her world number one ranking in May.

But the shoulder injury hampered her progress in the second half of the year and the last match she played for the year was in Montreal in August.

Tournament Director Craig Tiley said he was disappointed for Sharapova.

"She played some amazing tennis on Rod Laver Arena last year and I know she has been working around the clock to try and get back from the shoulder injury. In the end, time beat her this year," he said in the statement.

The Australian Open gets under way in Melbourne on January 19.
 

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