Melbourne:Former champion Maria Sharapova crashed out of the Australian Open at the first hurdle when she was beaten 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-4 by fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko on Monday.
The two 22-year-olds slugged it out for over three hours before a Sharapova forehand sailed wide, giving Kirilenko the first upset of the 2010 tournament and her second win in four matches against the former world number one.
Sharapova, who spent almost a year out of the game in 2008-09 following surgery for a shoulder injury, looked rusty at the start, with many of her groundstrokes either hitting the net or spraying long or wide, often both.
The 2008 champion elected not to play a competitive lead-up tournament, instead choosing exhibitions in Hong Kong and Thailand and her lack of serious match practice was evident.
Both women started nervously, dropping their opening serves following a string of unforced errors.
Kirilenko then lost her second service game and when Sharapova opened a 3-1 lead with a booming ace a regulation straight sets win looked likely.
But Kirilenko steadied and began to find her range and as Sharapova's unforced error rate continued to climb, the lesser ranked Russian broke back in the eighth game to put the set back on serve.
Sharapova took an early lead in the tiebreak but Kirilenko fought back again and two backhand errors in a row from Sharapova handed the first set to her opponent.
Sharapova came out firing in the second, attacking more, serving better and reducing her error rate.
She broke Kirilenko to lead 3-1 and held the advantage in a tightly contested second set, leveling the match at one-set apiece.
But the effort appeared to take its toll and a tired looking Sharapova lost her opening serve in the third set as Kirilenko eased to a 3-0 lead.
Sharapova refused to concede and when a nervous Kirilenko served for the match at 5-3, the former world number one pounced and broke back to put the set back on serve.
But the respite was only fleeting as Kirilenko brought up two match points on Sharapova's serve.
Sharapova saved the first but couldn't save the second and Kirilenko was through.