- Associated Press - Monday, January 8, 2018

HOBART, Australia (AP) - Eugenie Bouchard’s poor run of form continued Monday when she was beaten by Belarusian teenager Aryna Sabalenka at the Hobart International.

Former Wimbledon finalist Bouchard was eliminated from the Australian Open warm-up event after losing 6-4, 6-3.

It was the latest in a long sequence of early losses for the Canadian, who was named the most improved player in women’s professional tennis after reaching the Wimbledon final in 2014.

Bouchard, 23, has struggled since then, sliding from a career-high No. 5 ranking to 83rd.

She made the final at Hobart in 2016, but needed a wildcard to play there this year because the tournament is restricted to 32 players and her ranking did not guarantee her a start.

Her first-round loss to Sabalenka, best known for helping her country reach the Fed Cup final last year, continued her run of early exits.

In 2017, Bouchard was beaten in the first round in 14 tournaments, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and has made a bad start to 2018, losing all three of her singles matches at last week’s Hopman Cup in Perth.

“It’s not where I want to be,” said Bouchard, who had 12 double-faults. “Unfortunately, now I’ll have time to practice,” in Melbourne.

Defending champion Elise Mertens had no problems in her first-round encounter against Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara, racing to a 6-0, 6-4 victory in 72 minutes on the same court where she won her first WTA title.

“I have great memories here, so I am really happy to be back,” said No. 2-seeded Mertens, whose will play Beatriz Haddad Maia in the second round.

No.3-seeded Sorana Cirstea lost 7-5, 6-3 to British qualifier Heather Watson, and seventh-seeded Tatjan Maria lost 6-4, 6-2, to Donna Vekic.

“I’m very pleased with that win,” Watson said. “Sorana had a great year last year and she’s in some of the best form of her career.

Top-seeded Zhang Shuai advanced over Magda Linette 7-5, 6-3 and fifth-seeded Lesia Tsurenko beat Timea Babos 7-6 (2), 6-2.

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