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By Clare Lovell
LONDON, June 26 (Reuters) - Maria Sharapova tried hard not to blame the slippery Court Two after falling three times and tumbling out of the tournament at the hands of powerful Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito on Wednesday.
De Brito out-hit and out-smarted Sharapova beating her 6-3 6-4 in a noisy second-round baseline battle that featured some fearsome baseline hitting and some of the loudest shrieks and howls to echo around the All England Club.
The normally fiery Sharapova looked listless and out-of-sorts. She needed treatment after twisting her knee in the second set, when she fell awkwardly beyond the baseline.
“I don’t think I’ve ever fallen three times in a match before in my career, so that was a little strange,” the 26-year-old Russian said.
“But that’s certainly not an excuse. I think today I’ve seen a lot of players fall and take a few hits and a few injuries. So I think that’s just part of the game, part of what we have to deal with.”
Sharapova also credited her opponent with hitting more aggressively and avoiding mistakes.
The four-times grand slam champion failed to match a pumped up Larcher de Brito, who had clearly benefited from the grasscourt experience of her qualifying campaign, moving surefootedly and hitting huge backhands that whipped millimetres above the net and clipped the lines.
”I give her a lot of credit. I think she played extremely well today. She was really solid from the baseline. I don’t feel like I was aggressive enough, that I hit the ball deep enough.
“I wasn’t ready after the returns or the serves. She’s someone that plays extremely aggressive. I just wasn’t there.”
The world number three, fresh from claycourt defeat in the French Open final, could not find any rhythm and her game coughed and spluttered through a series of unforced errors.
”I‘m not making an excuse about the court. That’s not why I made errors or I didn’t make returns...the situation on the court was exactly the same as it was for my opponent.
“I just didn’t deal with it as well as she did. I can’t make excuses for my errors. Those are in my own hands.”
Seven players pulled out injured or retired from matches on Wednesday, as the slick surface took an unusual toll.
Larcher de Brito, best known at Wimbledon until now for the wailing that accompanies every shot, looked composed and comfortable from the start.
She broke Sharapova’s serve twice in the first set and again in the third game of the second to stay in control.
Only when she served for the match did nerves creep in and she needed five match points to clinch victory.
Sharapova showed her champion’s fighting spirit in some relentless baseline rallies in that 10th game but slammed the ball into the net to concede defeat.
Court Two used to be known as the graveyard of champions after a series of title winners lost there.
It was rebuilt at the southern end of the grounds in 2009 but it has already been the setting for several upsets and Sharapova’s defeat will add to its reputation.
Larcher de Brito, ranked 131 in the world, said she felt: “A little bit of shock and excitement. I really can’t believe it.”
After suffering three months out with a knee injury the Portuguese said she was wary of the surface. “It was quite slippery. From what I felt there was dead grass on the top, but I just tried to be more careful,” she said.
During Sharapova’s timeout the Portuguese, who as a precocious 15-year old reached number 76 in the world, practised her serve and kept moving while the crowd let off steam with a series of Mexican waves.
The toughest moments were serving for the match.
“I thought, now or never. I tried to stay calm, even though it’s hard sometimes. I just gave it my all, like I always do, and it turned out good.” (Reporting by Clare Lovell; editing by Ken Ferris)