Maria Sharapova has made a memorable return to the US Open after upsetting number 2 seed, Simona Halep, in a three-set thriller. The Russian improved her record to 7-0 against the Romanian with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in her first Grand Slam match in 19 months.
From the second the draw was revealed, the tennis community had been waiting for this enticing matchup of two of the biggest names in women’s tennis. Sharapova and Halep had met on six previous occasions, with the imposing Russian only having dropped three sets in her flawless record against the Romanian. This meeting between the former World #1 and the current World #2 had promised so much and delivered even more.
The match was scheduled for opening night on Arthur Ashe Stadium, much to Sharapova’s delight, having won all 17 previous night matches played on the center court. The stage was set for an unforgettable evening with two champions going head to head in front of a huge crowd. The intense atmosphere and world-class tennis had many believing this was a match worthy of a Grand Slam final.
Sharapova entered Arthur Ashe for the first time in two years to an overwhelming positive reaction. The former champion was feeling the love from the crowd as she went about her business in the opening set, coming out playing aggressive as usual. The pair traded breaks throughout the opening set, before Sharapova could produce a rare hold to move ahead 5-4. Halep stumbled on serve and the Russian was quick to jump on her chance, winning the set 6-4. Sharapova overpowered the diminutive figure of Halep, hitting 28 winners in the opener.
The vintage Sharapova style was on display as the right-hander continued to play aggressively, taking the ball early and blasting winners past the helpless Halep, as she quickly raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set. The megastar of the sport looked likely to improve her winning record at the final Grand Slam of the year; however, she displayed some nerves attempting to close out the first-round encounter. The match-fit Romanian took advantage of this lapse in concentration and captured the next five games, mounting a stunning comeback to level the match at one set a piece.
After an extended toiler break between sets, Sharapova quickly regained momentum, taking a 3-0 lead. This surge was fueled by bruising tennis, the kind that helped her win five previous Grand Slam titles. The Russian showed poise when serving for the match at 5-3, before falling to her knees after Halep launched a forehand past the baseline on match point to hand Sharapova the contest. After 19 months since her last Grand Slam match win, Sharapova was able to close out the tough contest 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. The 6’2” talent was emotional in victory saying that “These are the opportunities you play for,” in an on-court interview while shedding tears.
When asked what the Russian had learned from this match, her response was “Behind all these Swarovski crystals and little black dresses, this girl has a lot of grit and she isn’t going anywhere.” This certainly was the case as the reinvigorated Sharapova proved to the world that she is still one of the best athletes on the planet.
Rachel Platten’s Fight Song was fittingly played as Sharapova exited it stadium. This girl from Russia certainly does have a lot of fight left to give.
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