New York, Aug 29 (IANS) Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova knocked out No.2 seed Simona Halep of Romania in a three-set thriller to advance into the second round of the US Open at Flushing Meadows here.
It was Sharapova’s first Grand Slam match since a quarter-finals loss to Serena Williams in last year’s Australian Open, when she tested positive for the newly banned heart drug meldonium, reports Xinhua news agency.
After serving a 15-month doping ban, the former World No.1 Sharapova returned in April but the French Open snubbed Sharapova for a wildcard entry and she missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury.
“It’s all worth it. You sometimes wonder why you put in all the work. And this is exactly why,” a tearful Sharapova said in her on-court interview on Monday.
“I just thought this was another day, another opportunity, another match but this was so much more.”
Only a handful of points separated the pair as Sharapova, into the year’s final Grand Slam on a wildcard, overcame a second-set letdown to outhit Halep 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 after the marathon two hours and 44 minutes match.
In the first set, both players were struggling in respective serves, Sharapova had three breaks, one more than Halep, to take the opening set.
After leading by a set and 4-1 in the second, the Russian star showed some fatigue and rust, dropping five games in a row. But in the third, Sharapova regained control by going ahead 3-0, using her power to keep two-time French Open runner-up Halep under pressure. After that, she never looked back.
“It was very was very tough, not like first-round matches. But this is the draw. I think I give everything I had. She was better,” said 25-year-old Halep.
Sharapova hit 60 winners on the night, four times as many as her opponent, to extend her winning record against Halep to 7-0.
“You sometimes wonder why you put in all the work,” Sharapova said on court after her victory, “and this is exactly why.”
“Behind the crystals, this girl has grit,” she added, to loud cheers from the crowd.
Sharapova, a five time Grand Slam winner will now face 59th-ranked Timea Babos of Hungary in the second round of women’s singles.
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