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TELEGRAPH ON LINE - 11/01/2009


Melanie South seizes chance as holder Maria Sharapova pulls out of Australian Open

Surrey youngster Melanie South will be handed a chance in the Australian Open after the withdrawal through injury of holder Maria Sharapova.

There have not been too many occasions when Maria Sharapova and Melanie South have been mentioned in the same sentence in the past, all they have had in common is that they play the same sport and have the same initials.

But on Sunday came Sharapova's announcement that she will not be defending her title at the Australian Open as she has not had enough time to train after a shoulder operation, and the world's highest-earning, most photographed sportswoman will be replaced in the field at Melbourne Park by South, a 22-year-old from Surrey ranked 110 in the world.

A "very sad" weekend for Florida-based Siberian tennis players was a good one for the British. A year ago, South was ranked outside the world's top 200, but the improvements she has made to her game have taken her to her current career high, which put her on the waiting list for Melbourne.
South's only previous main-draw experience at the grand slams had been through receiving wild cards at Wimbledon. But now Britain will have two direct acceptances in the women's competition at the Australian Open, as South will join Anne Keothavong, Britain's leading female player and also a main-draw debutant.

South has qualified for this week's tournament in Sydney, where she has been paired in the main draw with France's Marion Bartoli, a former Wimbledon finalist.

by Mark Hodkinson

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