Former world No 1 Maria Sharapova‘s Australian Open preparations suffered a blow after a thigh injury, which forced her to retire from the Shenzhen Open quarter-final clash against Aryna Sabalenka on Friday.
Sharapova struggled to move on court and conceded the opening set 6-1, with coach Thomas Hogstedt urging the Russian to take her game to the next level or call for a medical timeout. “If you feel more like you did on the first point, then you just stop. Or you take a medical now,” he said. “But the shots are there … you have to get it up to another gear.”
After receiving treatment off-court between sets, Sharapova sprinted out of the blocks to record a service hold and then pushed Sabalenka in the next game, creating three breakpoint opportunities.
Sabalenka, however, turned things around to move 4-2 ahead before her Russian opponent found herself unable to continue and retired from the match. Sharapova now faces a race against time to compete in the first grand slam of the year, which begins in Melbourne on 14 January.
Sharapova, who won the Australian Open in 2008, won the Tianjin Open in 2017 after a 15-month doping suspension but has endured a difficult run at the slams. A quarter-final appearance at the French Open last year gave reasons for optimism but early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open showed her game lacked the sharpness to compete at the highest level.