Australian Open 2020: Maria Sharapova's future unclear after Donna Vekic loss
"It's tough for me to tell what's going to happen in 12 months' time"
Last Updated: 21/01/20 12:31pm
Maria Sharapova has offered no guarantees that she will be back at the Australian Open after suffering a 6-3 6-4 loss to Donna Vekic in Melbourne.
Sharapova has played a limited schedule because of ongoing shoulder problems and has won only three matches since reaching the fourth round in Melbourne last year. Her ranking is projected to drop to world No 366 as a result of her latest defeat.
Vekic proved a formidable opponent on the court where Sharapova won the title in 2008 and the 19th seed raced to a 5-1 lead in the opening set before the former world No 1 found a way to get back into the contest.
Sharapova made Vekic work hard to close out the set and took a 4-1 lead in the second but was unable to maintain her momentum, losing the last five games to make her earliest exit from Melbourne Park since 2010.
The Russian cut a disconsolate figure in her post-match press conference and, asked whether she will be here next year, she replied: "I don't know.
"I was fortunate to get myself to be here and thankful to (tournament director) Craig (Tiley) and the team allowing me to be part of this event. It's tough for me to tell what's going to happen in 12 months' time."
There is no way to get out of it except to keep believing in yourself because, if you do do all the right things and you don't believe in yourself, then that's probably a bad formula.
Sharapova hit 19 winners but she also made 31 unforced errors during her defeat.
She said of her ranking drop: "I don't know if I can look at the ranking and really think about it in depth just because I really haven't played and I was injured most of the year. I certainly have to take that into account.
"I put myself out there. As tough as it was, I finished the match and it wasn't the way that I wanted.
"There is no way to get out of it except to keep believing in yourself because, if you do do all the right things and you don't believe in yourself, then that's probably a bad formula."
The big question mark concerns whether Sharapova's shoulder will ever be in a condition to allow her to play a decent block of tournaments.
"I don't have a crystal ball to tell you if I can or if I will, but I would love to," she said.
Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-1 7-5 while sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic advanced thanks to a 6-3 7-5 victory over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.
Bencic, who has pledged to donate $200 for bushfire relief efforts with each double fault she serves, said she could easily have had more than the four during her win.
"It's great. I could have done more, but I didn't," a smiling Bencic told reporters before being reminded that she also hit four aces. "Yes, so I can maybe donate (for) both."
Two-time major winner Simona Halep took a tumble and then saved three set points in the first set before recovering to fend off Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7-5) 6-1.
There were also victories for in-form youngsters Dayana Yastremska and Elena Rybakina.
Yastremska, seeded 23, next faces Caroline Wozniacki in what could be the final match of the Dane's career.
And Cici Bellis won a Grand Slam match for the first time in nearly three years after having a series of operations. The 20-year-old Californian, once ranked as high as 35th, beat Tatjana Maria of Germany 6-0 6-2.