She’s back! Shara­pova moves to U.S. Open’s third round

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - HOWARD FENDRICH

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.”

KATHY WIL­LENS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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