There was a surprise result in the first round of the WTA Qatar Open on Monday as former world number one Maria Sharapova exited the tournament at the first hurdle.

A wildcard, the 30-year-old Sharapova faced up against qualifier Monica Niculescu of Romania.

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Sharapova, who returned from a 15 month ban last year, won the first set 6-4.

However, Niculescu dug deep and managed to shave the next two sets by scores of 6-4 and 6-3 respectively. Ranked 92 in the world singles rankings, the 30-year-old Romanian beat an opponent 51 players north of herself.

Sharapova had started her 2018 season at the Shenzhen Open, crashing out of that tournament in the semi-finals.

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The Russian progressed to the third round of the Australian Open, before losing in straight sets to Angelique Kerber.

Sharapova must now be deliberating whether to forgo clay court preparations to compete at Roland Garros, or focus on her grass court play ahead of Wimbledon in the summer.