Yesterday saw the first round of tennis’s final Grand Slam of the season kick off in New York, as the U.S. Open was finally underway. One of the most intriguing matchups of the day started at 7 p.m. ET when No. 2-seeded Simona Halep faced off against five-time major champion Maria Sharapova.
A lot of fans saw Sharapova’s inclusion in the tournament as unworthy following her return from a 15-month ban after being suspended for testing positive for meldonium in January of 2016 following the Australian Open. She was originally handed a two-year ban, but it was reduced to 15 months last October.
She returned to tennis in April but has only played in only four events prior to the U.S. Open. The only reason she got into the tournament was that she was given a controversial wild-card invitation by the U.S. Tennis Association, which she did not get for the French Open and did not apply for at Wimbledon.
Some also saw Halep having to play Sharapova in the first round as an unfair draw since Sharapova is not your typical unseeded first-round matchup, even though the 30-year-old Russian has spent much of her comeback dealing with injuries. Sharapova would also be playing in her first major match since January of 2016, with this also being only her 11th match of the season.
In the first set, Sharapova played her usual powerful game as she hit 28 winners on her way to winning 6-4. She then jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set but proceeded to lose five straight games as Halep won 6-4, forcing a decisive and final third set. Sharapova then jumped out to yet another 4-1 lead and put away Halep with a stunning 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory in what was a thrilling two-hour-and-44-minute match.
For Sharapova, this victory pushed her to 7-0 all time against Halep. It also maintained her perfect 11-0 record in the first round at the U.S. Open and her 18-0 record at Arthur Ashe Stadium when playing at night. This was also Sharapova’s first victory over a top-two player since defeating Halep in the WTA Finals back in October of 2015.
Halep, meanwhile, blew her chance to get to No. 1 in the world for the fourth different time this year and also the possibility of capturing her first major in what seems to be a wide open tournament.
Sharapova was definitely emotional following her victory, as she dropped to her knees in disbelief and had tears welling up in her eyes.
In her on-court interview following the match with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, she stated, “It’s all worth it. You sometimes wonder why you put in all the work. And this is exactly why.”
She also issued a proclamation of sorts, saying, “Behind all these Swarovski crystals and little black dresses is a girl with a lot of grit, and she’s not going anywhere.”
Next up for Sharapova is a matchup with Hungary’s Timea Babos, the No. 59 ranked player in the world. Babos won her first round match 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 over Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland. Interestingly enough, this matchup marks the first time that Sharapova and Babos will have played each other.
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