A knowledgeable Flushing Meadows crowd spared Maria Sharapova the expected jeers in Monday’s first round victory over Simona Halep, who lost the battle to her own demons again.
Taking over Halep’s draw now means that on paper it is a kind route for someone of Maria’s stature. That said, this brings a different kind of pressure. In the 2nd round, the Russian’s labored three-set victory over the inconsistent Hungarian, Timea Babos, had a big “after the Lord Mayor’s show” feel to it. She was off the pace; her potent serving that saw Halep off was limp.
Another low key opponent up next for Sharapova in the 3rd round
#139 ranked, Russian-born American Sofia Kenin is up next. She may not ultimately cause Sharapova as many issues as Babos did, and our esteemed panelists certainly don’t think so. The 18-year-old came through a tie break in the 3rd set, beating fellow American Sacha Vickery. Vickery had the match in her hands at times and will be disappointed with the loss. She had the game to mix it up with Sharapova–who is far more comfortable as the underdog lately.
Kenin is a 2014 Junior Fed Cup winner, representing the USA. The youngster will attempt to get the home crowd on her side and use this energy to re-direct/return the Russian’s power. Sharapova has had two tiring three-set matches already and is not 100% match fit yet.
Sharapova is on a potential collision course with Sloane Stephens in the quarters
Early exits by Johanna Konta, Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, and Dominica Cibulkova have elevated Sharapova to one of the favorites. Should she make it past Kenin and then find a way past another tricky opponent–either grass court specialist Donna Vekic or Anastasija Sevastova, who ended Konta’s hopes here last year–Sloane Stephens is a potential quarterfinal opponent. Stephens has built more momentum onto her already remarkable comeback with an assertive 2nd round victory over Cibulkova. Then we would truly see where Sharapova is at.
Gruelling matches and lack of competitive action may take its toll on Maria Sharapova. Six sets in two matches and little action before this tournament must leave you questioning Sharapova’s sharpness, especially as the second week approaches.
Sharapova had to put all her strength into preparing for her first round against Halep, as though it was a final. This will have sapped her and there are still dangerous opponents to come who will take advantage of this. It’s a big ask for Sharapova to play a consistently high standard for the whole two weeks–too big an ask at this point.