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Bondarenko spikes Sharapova's run

MARIA Sharapova lost to Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the Warsaw Open yesterday, her first singles tournament since being sidelined following shoulder surgery.

The 39th-ranked Bondarenko broke the Russian twice in the first set and three times in the second, despite Sharapova hitting 78 percent of her first serves.

The Ukrainian dictated the pace of the points from the outset, and Sharapova struggled to find her range from the baseline.

"I give her all the credit for doing all the right things and stepping up and playing her game and playing it really well," Sharapova said.

"She didn't make many unforced errors, she hit many balls back and when my balls were going a little bit shorter I tried to go for it a little bit more and wasn't as patient as I should have been. But those are the mistakes you're going to make coming back and you have to learn from those mistakes."

Sharapova, a three-time grand slam winner and former top-ranked player, had surgery for a torn rotator cuff last year and missed the past two grand slam tournaments.

The clay-court event in Warsaw marked her return to the singles tour.

Bondarenko stole an early break in the first set when Sharapova netted a forehand to lead 2-1. The Russian quickly earned three break points in the following game, but couldn't capitalize and Bondarenko rallied to hold serve with a deep forehand.

In the second, Bondarenko broke the Russian to open the set and cruised to a 5-0 lead before Sharapova earned her first and only break of the match with a forehand winner.

"I played her twice before, and I thought it was going to be a harder match," said Bondarenko, who was runner-up at the 2007 tournament in Warsaw.

"She played (in the past) without mistakes, and right now with lots of mistakes ... her serve isn't as powerful as before either."

Despite the loss, Sharapova said the tournament fulfilled its role - helping her gauge where she is in her return and gain valuable match experience.

"This is the best preparation I could have had.

"I played three matches, spent about three or four hours on the court in good match situations - I couldn't be happier about it," she said.

Sharapova now begins gearing up for the French Open next week, but she refused to speculate on how far she could go at the only Grand Slam even she hasn't won.

"I don't have any expectations. I don't think this is a time in my career to have expectations in my second tournament back after not playing for 10 months," Sharapova said.


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