Shara­pova wins an­other 3-set­ter at U.S. Open; Zverev ousted

The Day - - SPORTS - By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Ten­nis Writer

New York — No one, not even Maria Shara­pova her­self, knew quite what to ex­pect from her re­turn to Grand Slam ten­nis at the U.S. Open.

It had been 19 months since she had en­tered a ma­jor tour­na­ment. She played only nine times any­where since a 15-month dop­ing sus­pen­sion ended 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.

"Look, I cer­tainly have ex­pec­ta­tions, just be­cause I know I've been in these stages be­fore and I've been able to ex­e­cute. There's a cer­tain level of 'I know I can do this. I've done it be­fore. I want to have that feel­ing again,'" Shara­pova said. "But there's also the re­al­is­tic un­der­stand­ing of, 'OK, you haven't been in this sit­u­a­tion for a while. It's go­ing to take a lit­tle time.' Of course, man­ag­ing ex­pec­ta­tions is part of it, learn­ing as you play the matches, which is some­thing I haven't done for a long time."

Her vic­tory was the high­light of a busy day that fea­tured 87 sin­gles matches on the sched­ule af­ter rain washed out most play a day ear­lier. With so many matches go­ing on, there were plenty of names to keep tabs on, although few truly re­mark­able results.

The most notewor­thy sec­ond-round loss was by No. 4 Alexan­der Zverev, a 20-year-old Ger­man who de­spite his lofty seed­ing and con­sid­er­able po­ten­tial has only once been as far as the fourth round at a ma­jor. He was beaten by Borna Coric 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4).

Past U.S. Open cham­pi­ons ad­vanc­ing in­cluded Venus Wil­liams and Marin Cilic into the third round, and Juan Martin del Potro and Svet­lana Kuznetsova — who saved three match points — into the sec­ond. No. 14 Nick Kyr­gios, No. 22 Fabio Fognini, No. 26 Richard Gas­quet and No. 27 Pablo Cuevas all lost their open­ers.

In the early go­ing, it looked as if Shara­pova might join them on the way out.

She made 19 un­forced er­rors in the first set, which ended with her miss­ing twice on fore­hands to give the 59th-ranked Ba­bos the lead. 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.

Shara­pova last par­tic­i­pated in a ma­jor tour­na­ment at the 2016 Aus­tralian Open, where she tested pos­i­tive for the newly banned heart drug mel­do­nium. She de­clined to an­swer a re­porter's ques­tion about how fre­quently she's been drug-tested this year.

Ba­bos said she thought it was "a lit­tle bit un­fair for the other play­ers" that Shara­pova was let into the field, a sen­ti­ment echoed by No. 20 seed CoCo Van­deweghe of the U.S., who would have pre­ferred that an Amer­i­can get that wild card.

But here Shara­pova is, and she does not ap­pear ready to be an easy out.

"To­wards the end of the sec­ond set, I felt like I was the fresher player. Go­ing into a third set, that's a good po­si­tion or a good feel­ing to have," said the 30-year-old Rus­sian, who wore a strip of black tape on the left fore­arm that both­ered her ear­lier in the month.

She also had a sleeve on her right el­bow, which she said was to keep that arm warm.

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