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Old Jan 11th, 2009, 05:14 AM   #1
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Maria Sharapova out of Australian Open

EXCLUSIVE

NEXT week's Australian Open has been rocked by the withdrawal of defending champion Maria Sharapova.
Sharapova's management contacted Melbourne Park officials today with news her right shoulder injury had not fully recovered.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley confirmed Sharapova's battle for fitness had been lost.

"I'm obviously disappointed for Maria because she's extremely disappointed," Tiley said.

"We've been in constant contact with Maria and she's decided to withdraw because she's not ready in her rehabilitation process.

"She's loves the Australian Open and she loves Melbourne - she's bitterly disappointed."

Sharapova, 23, has not played since Montreal in August because of chronic soreness in her shoulder.

Sharapova had been desperate to defend the Melbourne Park title.

But she last week withdrew from a Hong Kong exhibition, triggering fears she would have to bypass the Open.

The decision comes as a massive blow to the Russian, who spent 10 weeks in Arizona rehabilitating.

"We were working hard on my strength and building up all the muscles around my shoulder," Sharapova said on her website.

"Since I can only do that for two hours a day, I also worked really hard on working on other parts of my body.

"Unfortunately after my 10 weeks of shoulder rehab, I started hitting and serving again and I still felt the same exact pain that I have had in my shoulder since March."

Sharapova then underwent arthroscopic surgery - but believed she would recover in time for the next week's Open.

"I miss competing so much. I am trying to do everything possible to be ready for Australia, but I have promised my doctors, coach and family that I will not rush back," she said.

"I have only been able to practice so many hours at a time which is why I don't feel like I am ready to compete at a high level right now and this is why I need to pull out of the exhibtion in Hong Kong.

"But the great news is that we have taken care of the problem that has been bothering me so much over the last couple of years, and now is the time to get into what I call 'match shape'."

Sharapova joins Lindsay Davenport (pregnant) and Nadia Petrova (viral meningitis) as high-profile absentees.

Russia's world No. 5 Nikoloay Davydenko (foot) is the most notable casualty on the men's side.
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