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(Reuters) - Organizers of the WTA's inaugural Wuhan Open, still reeling from last week's retirement of the city's tennis trailblazer Li Na, suffered the loss of further headline acts on Monday with the early exit of seeded players.
Fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska was ousted in three sets by Caroline Garcia of France, while ninth seed Ana Ivanovic and Dominika Cibulkova, seeded 12th, also exited after retiring from their opening matches at the $2.4 million hard court event.
Germany's Sabine Lisicki celebrated her birthday by ending the title hopes of 14th seed Lucie Safarova 7-5 2-6 6-3 while Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova dumped out 15th seed Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-1 6-4.
Compounding the losses was the exit of home favorite Shuai Peng, who bowed out in straight sets to Germany's Mona Barthel 6-2 7-6(1) in the Chinese right hander's first match since being forced to retire in the semi-final of last month's U.S. Open.
French Open champion and world number four Maria Sharapova made a slow start but was one of the few seeds to make it through the Monday massacre after she beat compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6 6-2 6-2 in the final action on the center court.
Sharapova has already qualified for the season ending WTA Finals in Singapore next month and Pole Radwanska could have joined her by reaching the final in Wuhan but she ran into one of the sport's rising stars in Garcia on Monday.
The 20-year-old Frenchwoman, who survived a match point to beat Venus Williams in a third set tie break on Sunday, needed another decider to settle the contest with a 3-6 7-6(4) 7-6(7) marathon against Radwanska.
"It was a tough match from beginning to end. I was just worse today in those two points in the end," Radwanska said.
"Of course I had my chances before that, but game by game and point by point we had a lot of good rallies, and I could have done better and stepped forward in certain moments.
"But she was hitting the ball very hard and serving very well the whole match, especially in the important moments. She kept a really high level. She was just playing really, really well today."
Former world number one Ivanovic needed to win in Wuhan to book a place at the WTA's season ending championships, for the first time since 2008, but the demands of last week's tournament victory in Tokyo seemed to have taken a toll on her body.
The 26-year-old was trailing Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5 6-5 in the first round before calling it a day because of a thigh injury, while a left ankle injury ended Slovakian Cibulkova's tournament when she was level at one set all with American Madison Keys.
World number one Serena Williams will kick off her campaign on Tuesday with a second-round clash against Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; editing by Sudipto Ganguly