WTA Doha: Sharapova dumped as qualifiers thrive

Published by Reuters

Since her comeback from a doping ban in April 2017, Maria Sharapova had fallen just once in her opening match at a tournament (Moscow) until going down to Monica Niculescu in Doha; Getty Images
Qualifiers went a perfect 5-0 on Monday in Doha; among those winners was Monica Niculescu, who stunned five-time major champion Maria Sharapova in three sets.

Maria Sharapova surrendered an early advantage as she was stunned 4-6 6-4 6-3 by Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu in the first round of the Qatar Open.

Wildcard Sharapova, playing in Doha for the first time since 2013, looked on course for victory after taking the first set but struggled to carry forward the momentum against a determined opponent and crashed out after two hours 38 minutes.

> ANALYSIS: anatomy of a losing streak

Five-times Grand Slam winner Sharapova was not helped by 11 double faults and 52 unforced errors while her opponent, who fired 12 winners, grew in confidence as the contest wore on.

Qualifier Niculescu, who used her slices to good effect and converted six out of seven break points in the match to oust Russian Sharapova, will take on Wimbledon semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova or local wildcard Fatma Al Nabhani next.

She was one of five qualifiers to win on Monday, with the others being Naomi Osaka, CiCi Bellis, Duan Ying-Ying and Anna Blinkova.

Blinkova stunned Elena Vesnina 6-1 6-3 while Bellis got past an injured Daria Kasatkina, who retired in second set.

> RELATED: Serena returns to court in Fed Cup

Earlier, Dominika Cibulkova rallied past Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6(8) 6-4 as she progressed to a second round meeting with France’s seventh seed Caroline Garcia.

Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu eased past Lesia Tsurenko to set up a clash with sixth-seeded French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, while Russian Ekaterina Makarova also reached the second round.

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