Sharapova falls at first hurdle in Doha

Maria Sharapova’s campaign at the Qatar Total Open ended almost as soon as it began on Monday, as she went down in three sets to Monica Niculescu.

World No 92 Niculescu produced some impressive shotmaking as she defeated former 41st-ranked Sharapova 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in their first-round clash.

Sharapova, who was playing in Doha for the first time since 2013, led by a set and a break on two occasions, but allowed Niculescu back into the contest each time.

A decisive break at 4-5 then handed the Romanian the second set, before the underdog again fought back from a break down to take the third and final set and seal victory.

Niculescu finished with 12 winners to just 17 unforced errors, and notably was able to convert six of seven break point opportunities, as Sharapova wilted under pressure.

Sharapova will look no further than her 52 unforced errors as the reason for her defeat, with 31 winners not enough to offset that lack of consistency.

Other winners on Monday included Dominika Cibulkova, CeCe Bellis and China’s Duan Yingying. Duan’s countrywoman Zhang Shuai was knocked out, however, going down 7-5, 6-0 to Ekaterina Makarova.