Maria Sharapova’s shocking 15-month doping ban ended back in April, but her return to the sport has been mired by injuries and disappointment, highlighted by her withdrawing from the Bank of the West Classic after just one match due to a forearm injury last month. For any rational observer, expectations for the world’s No. 146-ranked women’s player at this week’s US Open were tempered to say the least. On a Monday night with the vibe of a later-round affair, the five-time major champion showed off her big match pedigree and resoundingly silenced any of her doubters.
Sharapova upset No. 2 seed Romanian Simona Halep 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the first round of the US Open and in her first Grand Slam appearance since the lengthy ban. The 30-year-old, who was able to compete in the final major of the year thanks to a wild-card exemption from the U.S. Tennis Association, moved well and showed no signs of injury en route to the surprising victory.
Halep, who has now lost all seven meetings against Sharapova, struggled with her first serve and was unsettled by the onslaught of firepower from the Russian throughout the match. During the first set alone, Sharapova showed off her marquee power by teeing off on Halep’s shaky second serve, recording an astounding 18 forehand winners and 10 backhand winners. The Romanian was able to take advantage of a less fluid Sharapova and take the second set 6-4.
In the final set of the thrilling match, Sharapova settled herself and once again took advantage of Halep’s weak second serve. Halep had kept her emotions in check for the first two sets of the affair, but was visibly frustrated with Sharapova’s power in the third and eventually fell 6-4.
Sharapova received her 15-month suspension due to a positive test at the 2016 Australian Open for the drug meldonium. She later claimed that the positive test occurred because of a miscommunication as a result of the drug being added to the World Tennis Association’s banned substances list earlier in 2016. An already controversial figure in the sport, the 2006 US Open champion received very little support from inside and outside the tennis community for the failed test and subsequent explanation.
Sharapova, who was visibly emotional at the end of the match, will now face Hungarian Tímea Babos in the second round of the tournament on Wednesday.