After completing her 15-month suspension, Maria Sharapova returned to the Grand Slam stage in the first round of the US Open last night.
She remains one of the biggest draws in tennis and the stage was perfectly set – a night match at the Arthur Ashe stadium against world number two, Simona Halep.
Sharapova demonstrated that she’s still got real quality in the first set, winning 6-4. Then the 30-year-old took a 4-1 lead in the second, when it seemed like she might slip. Halep won the next five games to level the score and take it to a deciding third set.
At this point, it looked like Sharapova’s lack of match practice would cost her. It would have been understandable. After all, it had been 19 months since her last Grand Slam appearance. Instead, the Russian kept her composure to secure victory.
It was a very impressive display, especially considering the circumstances. Sharapova’s rustiness contributed to her making 64 unforced errors, but she hit 60 winners throughout the match. Halep only hit 15.
Halep’s second serve was consistently weak and Sharapova exposed that weakness by hitting 14 return winners to her opponent’s three. Sharapova’s own serve was a real weapon. It averaged 100mph and produced seven aces.
There was plenty of controversy when Sharapova was granted a wild-card entry to the tournament, but her dramatic win over Halep shows that she still has what it takes to go all the way.
Halep is out, Johanna Konta lost to the unseeded Aleksandra Krunic and Serena Williams is not competing at Flushing Meadows, which narrows the field. Sharapova is now third-favourite at 7/1 to win the Women’s title, only behind Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova.
Next up is a second-round match against Timea Babos. If she can recover from yesterday’s efforts and handle another match of top-level competition so quickly after so long out, her talent should see her through.
After that and with a little momentum, anything is possible.
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