The Roar
The Roar


Murray steps it up as Sharapova steps aside

11th January, 2009

Red-hot Andy Murray claimed title favouritism as Maria Sharapova aborted plans to defend her women’s crown on a dramatic day of developments a week out from the Australian Open.

As Murray’s rosey build-up to the opening grand slam of the season continued with an emphatic victory over Andy Roddick in the Qatar Open final, Sharapova advised Open officials she was not sufficiently fit to return to top-level tennis following five months out with a nagging shoulder injury.

The 21-year-old Russian hasn’t played since last August, where the injury led to her committing 17 double-faults in one match at Montreal.

“I am very sorry to announce that I am not going to be able to defend my title at this year’s Australian Open,” Sharapova said.

“My shoulder is doing great, but I just started training a few weeks ago and I am just not near the level I need to be to compete at the highest levels.”

Three-time champion Serena Williams may privately feel the same way, even if the world No.2 wasn’t saying so after fending off four match points before clawing her way to a three-set victory over local hope Samantha Stosur in the first round of the Sydney International.

There were no such scares for Murray, who added Roddick to his growing list of big-name scalps in 2009 with a 6-4 6-2 pasting of the American in Doha.

The blazing win followed his semi-final triumph over Federer and successes over the Swiss and Rafael Nadal last week at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi.


Lleyton Hewitt agreed the 21-year-old world No.4 had taken his game to a new level and had every right to fancy his chances of breaking his grand slam duck in Melbourne.

“The way he played the last four months last year, he played exceptional tennis,” Hewitt said on Sunday.

“He played really well. He had that confidence to take it to the best players in the world that a lot of the other guys don’t have out there.

“Since Wimbledon, basically, he’s really stepped up to the mark, made his first grand slam final in the US Open.

“He’s going to be tough to beat in Melbourne.

“He’s serving a lot better than he used to, so he’s taking care of his service games. He’s a great returner. He always has been a great returner.

“He changes pace – he and Roger are the two standouts that I’ve seen in a long time – really well on a tennis court.


“They mix the pace up extremely well and Andy has always been able to do that, ever since he came on the tour.

“That’s probably the biggest thing.

“Self-belief for Andy now – that’s the key – he believes after beating Roger and Nadal a couple of times that he can do it.”

Hewitt said Murray deserved to be rated alongside Federer, the top-ranked Nadal and defending champion Novak Djokovic as the standout four favourites for the Open title – but stopped short of declaring the Scot his outright top pick.

“The world No.1 has got to be up there, too,” Hewitt said.

“Over five sets, on any surface, Rafa is extremely hard to beat.

“Those three and Djokovic, he’s the defending champ. I don’t think he should be out of the mix.”


West Australian Brydan Klein and Queenslander Isabella Holland have both been awarded wildcards into the main draw of Australian Open 2009.