Maria Sharapova’s mediocre record since her return from a doping ban continued as the 2004 champion was bundled out in the first round of Wimbledon by world No 132 Vitalia Diatchenko.
The five-time Grand Slam champion has failed to make it past the quarter-finals at a major since she returned from her 15-month suspension for meldonium use in April 2017. The question must be asked as to whether the 31-year-old can still perform at the highest level without the benefit of the drug.
Diatchenko had only won two Grand Slam matches in her career before Tuesday but she produced a nerveless display to knock out her fellow Russian 6-7, 7-6, 6-4.
Sharapova served for the match at a set and 5-3 up. She was two points from victory but faltered at the vital moment. 'I definitely had several chances in the match,' she said.
'Although not playing my best tennis, I opened up a few doors and was a couple points away from winning this match. But sometimes you put yourself in a winning position and you don't finish through. That was the case.'
The Russian was outwardly positive about her future, but she still seems some way off competing for the biggest prizes. 'I've certainly made a lot of progress despite this result,' said Sharapova. 'I find myself in a much better position than at this time last year.'
Sharapova sent down 11 double faults – the final one on match point - leaked 34 unforced errors and was broken seven times. As for Diatchenko, in the moments when players so often fade in the face of the awesome force of Sharapova’s competitive spirit, she stood firm.
This was Sharapova’s first appearance at the All England Club for three years. She missed last year’s Championships with a thigh injury and in 2016 she was in the middle of her ban.
Anyone expecting a hostile reception would have been disappointed. The always benevolent Wimbledon crowd welcomed her back with polite applause.