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Sharapova pulls out of Australian Open

DEFENDING champion Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Australian Open, she announced today.

The Russian said she was making steady progress from a shoulder injury she suffered last year but was not fit enough to compete in the first grand slam of 2009, which starts on Jan. 19.

"I am very sorry to announce that I am not going to be able to defend my title at this year's Australian Open," the world number nine said in a statement.

"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."

Sharapova won her first Australian Open title last year when she beat Serbia's Ana Ivanovic in the final at Melbourne Park but has not played since August.

The 21-year-old won her first 18 matches in 2008 to briefly reclaim the number one ranking before injury struck at Montreal, forcing her to withdraw from last year's Beijing Olympics and the US Open.

"I know she has been working around the clock to try and get back from the shoulder injury. In the end, time beat her this year," Australian Open tournament Director Craig Tiley said.

"We wish her well with her return to tennis and look forward to seeing her back in Melbourne next year."


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