Wildcard Maria Sharapova Knocks Out Second Seed Simona Halep in First Round of US Open
(August 28, 2017) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Maria Sharapova made her return to her first major since her 15-month doping ban on Monday night at the US Open by beating No. 2 seed Simona Halep 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
The 2006 US Open champion, who came into the tournament as a wildcard due to her low ranking of 146, not high enough to go straight into the main draw, is now 18-0 at night in Arthur Ashe Stadium. She is 11-0 in first rounds matches at Flushing Meadows.
“It’s prime-time, baby,” she said on court after being told that statistic.
Sharapova used a powerful forehand to put the Romanian Halep off guard.
From 1-4 down in the second set, Halep reeled off five straight games, saving numerous break points to serve out the second set 6-4.
“I just kept fighting, playing,” Halep said. “I feel that I started to play a little bit more relaxed after that score. Then I got the confidence back. Actually, I didn’t lose the confidence during the match because I felt that I was very close, also in the first set.”
In the third set Sharapova broke serve in the second game and held for a 3-0 lead. Serving for the match at 5-3 in the third, Halep could not convert a break point to get back on serve. The 2006 champion closed out the match 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
Sharapova was very emotional on court when she won the match, she fell to her knees crying.
In her on-court interview with ESPN she said, “Behind all these Swarovski crystals, this girl has a lot of grit—and she’s not going anywhere.”
Sharapova hit 60 winners to only 15 from Halep. The Russian had a massive 64 unforced errors and was 5 for 22 in break point opportunities in the two-hour and 44-minute match.
Sharapova had not played at a major tournament since January 2016, when she tested positive for meldonium during the Australian Open. She was denied a wildcard for the French Open.
“I just thought that was another day, another opportunity, another match,” Sharapova said on court. “But this was so much more. I tried not to think about it.”
“So special,” Sharapova said about the warmth she felt from the crowd. “I felt the support in the States, I mean, even just the first match in Stanford. It’s a smaller event, a smaller venue, it’s a little bit more intimate. This is obviously a different scale, completely different caliber to anywhere you play in the world. It’s electric.
“As much as I want to be in the zone, focus in on what I have to do, execution and all those things, I definitely felt the energy. I felt the crowd. I felt it for both of us, you know. That’s what makes this great. I love that feeling, that there’s fans cheering for both players, that it’s a great match and a great level. They’re getting their evening’s worth.”
Halep, who before the tournament began, was one of eight women who could reach No. 1, was again disappointed with failing to reach the top spot.
“I’m sad, of course, losing this match,” she said. “But I think I give everything I had. She was better. She was serving better. My serve was very bad today.”
“In my opinion was very tough. Was not like first-round match. But this is the draw. I cannot say anything else, just that’s it. It’s the luck.
“It was a tough one for first round, for sure. But still I think I played okay. She played really well. It was a good match. It was good for the fans.”
“I think when I found out that I received the wild card, I was obviously extremely excited,” said Sharapova. “I realized how long it had been since I played at the US Open. Just the thought of being back here. When me and my coach first scheduled my practice on center court, actually it got moved because they had some maintenance issues. I was upset about it because I really wanted that first practice on center court. Those little things you kind of take for granted. From the moment that I’ve been here, I’ve really understood what this means to me, to be back and to be playing.
“Then when the draw came out, I knew what a difficult matchup this would be, how much excitement was behind this matchup and the hype. That all goes to the fact that we’ve just competed so well against each other in the past. Really produced some good tennis.
“Despite not playing a lot of matches coming into this, it almost seemed like I had no right to win this match today. And I somehow did. I think that is what I’m most proud of.”
“I’ll enjoy this for a little bit of time, then I have to move on,” said the 2006 winner. “But I definitely have to value the feeling that I have now. I think that’s important. I can’t take that for granted. I can’t take the level for granted. I can’t take my emotions for granted.
“This is a big win for me, and I will enjoy it, then move on to the next one.”
More to follow….