MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova was upset by Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4 in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday, her worst performance at a Grand Slam event since 2003.
The 14th-seeded Sharapova was unable to defend her 2008 Australian Open championship while sidelined 10 months because of right shoulder surgery. She then failed to advance beyond the quarterfinals in the other three majors last year.
The loss to Kirilenko was her earliest exit at a major since her first-round loss at the 2003 French Open.
"Just didn't win the match ... bottom line," said Sharapova, summing up the match in a matter-of-fact manner. "Certainly had my chances and just didn't execute.
"I felt like I was — when she was up and then I'd get back there, back in the game — I just didn't take advantage of that and let her ... control the situation again."
Kirilenko, whose best run at a major was to the fourth round here two years ago, put her fingers to her lips late in the match to remind herself to remain calm, not to silence a crowd that sensed an upset.
"Normally, it was for me actually, that everything is calm," she said of the gesture. "Because of course it's a great win, but it's only the first round I pass. It's nothing big actually."
Another Russian into the second round was 2009 runnerup Dinara Safina, who had a 6-4, 6-4 win over Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia in the first match completed on a rainy day at Melbourne Park. The second-seeded Safina lost the final to Serena Williams last year.
Kim Clijsters played on Rod Laver Arena immediately after Sharapova's loss and needed less than an hour to beat Valerie Tetreault of Canada 6-0, 6-4.
Clijsters won the U.S. Open in September in her third tournament back from time off after getting married and having a baby.
Andy Roddick sat through a needless rain suspension before beating Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
The match at Hisense Arena, the tournament's second covered court, was suspended at 2-2 in second set so that organizers could close the roof, which had been opened despite rain in the area.
In between rain delays on outside courts, No. 11-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile beat Olivier Rochus of Belgium 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 and Florian Mayer had an impressive comeback to beat Philipp Petzschner 0-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 6-2.
No. 24 Ivan Ljubicic had a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over 16-year-old wild card entry Jason Kubler, the youngest player in the draw.
On the women's side, No. 30 Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine had a 6-2, 7-6 (6) win over Romania's Raluca Olaru, Zheng Jie rallied to beat Peng Shuai 0-6, 6-1, 6-2 in an all-China match, and Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova 6-2, 6-4.
Sharapova kept going for winners despite twice being only two points away from losing the match. She ended up with 72 unforced errors and 11 double-faults.
The Marias, both Russian and both 22, clubbed 71 winners and made 110 unforced errors between them as they traded heavy ground strokes in a match that lasted 3 hours, 22 minutes and allowed the No. 58-ranked Kirilenko to even their four career head-to-head matches.
The crowd favored Kirilenko but a few voices chimed in to support Sharapova, or express exasperation. "Come ON Sharapova," one shouted after the three-time major winner chased down a forehand but returned it to the net.
The former No. 1-ranked Sharapova rallied from 2-5 down in the deciding set, holding serve and then breaking Kirilenko to stay in the match. She dropped her own serve after giving Kirilenko double match point, though, her last forehand landing out.
"It's never easy. I'm good friends with Maria," Kirilenko said, but "I tried my best to win today — I came here quite confident."
Safina was erratic at times, but had no serious problems handling the No. 47-ranked Rybarikova in her second tournament since a back problem forced her out of the season-ending championship in October.
"I had some good moments and bad moments, but overall I'm happy I went through, and I'm pretty satisfied with everything," Safina said.
"It was a solid game by me. Just from this I can start to build up much more confidence and using more my shots," she said.
Safina and Kirilenko played on the two covered courts at Melbourne Park. Matches on outside courts were delayed 45 minutes by rain and others were later suspended by showers, a change to the heat that usually confronts players at the first Grand Slam event of the season.
Police were busy despite the rain, ejecting 11 people from Melbourne Park for disruptive behavior and smuggling flares onto the grounds.
In another incident, police said a group of Croatian supporters were denied entry to the grounds Monday after setting off a flare.
Justine Henin, a seven-time major winner, makes her Grand Slam comeback against fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.
Defending champion Rafael Nadal, No. 4 Andy Murray and U.S. Open winner Juan Martin del Potro were set to play later Monday. (AP)