Vekic sends Sharapova packing from Open

Maria Sharapova is projected to drop to No.366 in the world after a first round loss to Donna Vekic.
Maria Sharapova is projected to drop to No.366 in the world after a first round loss to Donna Vekic.

Former champion Maria Sharapova has been dumped from the Australian Open, falling to Croatian rising star Donna Vekic in the first round.

Vekic, the 19th seed following her best season yet in 2019, took out the five-times major winner 6-3 6-4 in an hour and 21 minutes on Tuesday.

It was the 23-year-old's first victory over the Russian after losing their only previous match in the second round of the 2018 French Open.

World no.145 Sharapova couldn't capitalise on her tournament wildcard after making the last 16 in 2019 before bowing out against local hope Ashleigh Barty.

Sharapova's loss was her third straight first-round exit from a major, following flops at Wimbledon and the US Open and she's now projected to slide to No.366 in the world.

She spurned a chance to level the match at a set apiece, losing five straight games from 4-1 up in the second set.

Vekic had a breakout 2019 on the WTA tour, rising into the top 20 and securing a quarter-final berth at Flushing Meadows.

It was her first win on Rod Laver Arena after losing to former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in her first campaign at Melbourne Park in 2013.

"I always enjoy playing on the big stages and this was pretty big," Vekic told Channel Nine.

"But happy to leave with a win this time."

She'll face France's Alize Cornet or Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu in the second round.

Australian Associated Press