Wimbledon’s 2004 champion Maria Sharapova tumbled out of the tournament in the opening round for the first time, beaten at her own game by fellow-Russian Vitalia Diatchenko 6-7(3) 7-6(3) 6-4 as the evening shadows crept across Court Two.
Sharapova, seeded 24th, managed to stay with qualifier Diatchenko, who plays with a similar heavy-groundstroke style, through long baseline rallies and numerous deuce games, hoping her experience would tell.
Diatchenko, 27, had a medical time-out at 3-3 in the first set for treatment on her side and back. She appeared to be moving well afterwards but called the trainer again in the final set.
Nerves jangled as the first set reached its climax and she could not find the shots to disturb the 31-year-old five-times Grand Slam winner in the tiebreak, which Sharapova won with an unreturnable serve.
Sharapova, 31, broke Diatchenko’s serve early in the second set and looked to be cruising until her opponent roared back with stunning stokes to win three games in a row and bring the scores level.
The younger woman was more composed during the second tiebreak, earning early minibreaks and winning the set with a big serve that Sharapova put wide.
Both players roared with effort as they exchanged shots and each pulled off some stunning winners in the third set.
Sharapova broke twice but each time Diatchenko replied in kind and she wrapped up an unlikely victory in just over three hours when the former champion double-faulted.