She’s back! Sharapova moves to U.S. Open’s third round
No one, not even Maria Sharapova herself, knew quite what to expect from her return to Grand Slam tennis at the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
It had been 19 months since she had entered a major tournament.
She played only nine times anywhere since returning from a 15month doping suspension in April.
Two three-set tussles into her stay at Flushing Meadows, it’s clear that Sharapova’s game might be patchy, but she is as capable as ever of coming up with big strokes in big moments — and maybe, just maybe, could stick around for a while in a depleted draw.
Sharapova became the first woman into the third round at the U.S. Open by using 12 aces to help set aside a poor start and coming back to beat Timea Babos of Hungary, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1, on Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It was the highlight of a busy day that featured 87 singles matches on the schedule after rain washed out most play a day earlier.
“It wasn’t my best tennis,” Sharapova acknowledged in an on-court interview. “It felt like it was a scrappy match.”
Sure was, particularly in the early going. Sharapova made a whopping 19 unforced errors in the first set alone, including a pair of missed forehands that handed over the opening set to the 59th-ranked Babos.
But as the match went on, Sharapova looked more and more like someone who used to be ranked No. 1 and owns five major titles — including the 2006 U.S. Open — than someone who needed a wild-card invitation from the U.S. Tennis Association because she is now 146th, on account of her ban and lack of play.
“In the second set, I just felt like I was physically fresh and that gave me a lot of confidence,” said the 30year-old Russian, who wore a strip of black tape on the left forearm that bothered her earlier in the month.
“I just wanted to be fittest player out there in the end, and I really felt like I was.”
She cut down her miscues to 12 unforced errors in the second set, then just five in the third, and finished with a 39-13 advantage in winners, looking as strong as she did while eliminating No. 2 seed Simona Halep in a three-set thriller in Ashe on Monday.
“It was definitely tough to control the emotions yesterday, because as much as you want to be happy about that match and what I accomplished there, you want to move on really fast,” Sharapova said.
“And so finding that balance is really hard. Today I felt like going into the match I just wanted to get it done. And I did.”
Canada’s Denis Shapovalov returns to France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York on Wednesday night. Shapovalov won the first two sets, 6-4, 6-4. To see if he won the match, visit thespec.com.