Sharapova sparkles on return to grand slam stage
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[August 29, 2017]
By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Maria Sharapova
proved she will be someone to contend with for the U.S. Open crown
after the Russian wild card outlasted second seed Simona Halep 6-4
4-6 6-3 on Monday to get the year's final grand slam off to an
Still shaking off the rust from a 15-month doping ban and a string
of nagging injuries, the 30-year-old Sharapova needed all her skill,
determination and two hours and 44 minutes to snatch victory in
front of a packed Arthur Ashe stadium.
The victory becomes the highlight of what has been a torturous
comeback for the former world number one, who returned to tennis in
April after being banned for testing positive for metabolic
modulator meldonium at last year's Australian Open.
Her progress has been slowed by a thigh injury that forced her out
of the Italian Open in May and more recently left arm issues that
took her out of the second round at Stanford earlier this month.
However, there was no hint of distress against an in-form Halep as
she improved her record to 7-0 against the feisty Romanian in an
opening round clash that was played with the intensity more
befitting of a final.
"You sometimes wonder why you put in all the work and this is
exactly why," said Sharapova after playing in her first grand slam
match in nearly two years.
"No matter my record against her it's always been tough, no matter
what tournament, no matter where we played I knew I had to work for
Rarely do grand slams serve up such a mouth-watering treat in the
With the U.S. Open draws ravaged by injuries and withdrawals,
Sharapova provided a splash of glitz and glamor to the tournament
strolling onto the floodlit court like it was catwalk in a jet black
tennis dress that sparkled with Swarovski crystals.
"Behind all these crystals and little black dresses this girl has a
lot of grit and she's not going anywhere," Sharapova told the crowd.
A wild card entry and ranked outside the top 100, Sharapova could
have found herself up against anyone but the draw gave her no favors
by slotting her in against Halep.
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Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts to winning against Simona Halep of
Romania during their first round match. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
"Prime time baby," screamed Sharapova, now 18-0 in
night time matches on Arthur Ashe.
"These are the opportunities that you play for. When I was young and
I was coming to New York it was everything, the rush, the people,
the crowd, the noise and now I embrace every moment of it and I love
"Now I can't wait for more."
Adding some heat to contest, Halep was one of several players to
express their displeasure over the five-time grand slam winner being
granted wild card entries into tournaments instead of having to wade
Playing with freedom and power Sharapova ran the Romanian from
pillar to post as she took charge going up a set and 4-1 in the
Halep, however, was not about to surrender, sweeping the next five
games to level the contest.
Sharapova's game is not yet firing on all cylinders but the
Russian's competitive fires still burn bright ands he broke Halep to
open the third set then grimly hung on for the win, dropping to her
knees and bursting into tears as the Romanian's return sailed long.
"You never know what you are going to feel until you win that match
point," said Sharapova. "To come out in the third set and have that
chance again and winning it, those are the moments I can be proud
(Editing by John O'Brien/Peter Rutherford)
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