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Wildcard Sharapova dumped out in Australian Open first round

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Melbourne (AFP)

Maria Sharapova's faltering career hit a fresh low Tuesday when the five-time Grand Slam champion was turfed out in the first round of the Australian Open in straight sets.

The 32-year-old former world number one carried a haunted look at times in a 3-6, 4-6 defeat to Croatia's 19th-seeded Donna Vekic.

There were flashes of the form that helped make Sharapova one of the most marketable women in sport, the 145th-ranked Russian coming back from 5-1 down in the first set.

But Sharapova, who was banned for 15 months for failing a drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open, succumbed in the first set in 36 minutes.

Playing on the centre court Rod Laver Arena -- a sign of Sharapova's enduring pulling power -- she broke to go 3-1 up in the second set.

But Vekic broke back twice and sealed victory on the second match point when Sharapova fired wildly wide.

Sharapova was given a wildcard into Melbourne, where she won the title in 2008, and has struggled badly for form and fitness since returning from the ban for taking meldonium.

She missed large chunks of last year with a shoulder injury and has seen her ranking plummet.

The Russian, who last lost in the Melbourne first round in 2010, has now slumped to opening defeats at three Grand Slam tournaments in a row.

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