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Sharapova downs second seed Halep on US Open return

The Russian wildcard, playing her first Grand Slam since serving a doping ban, defeated the world number two in three sets at Flushing Meadows
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Sharapova downs second seed Halep on US Open return
ELSA AFP

Maria Sharapova won on her return to Grand Slam action on Monday night after serving a 15-month doping ban, knocking second seed Simona Halep out 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 at the US Open in a victory that is sure to raise to question marks over the wildcard system.

The 30-year-old Russian, who had only one hard-court match under her belt due to a nagging forearm injury going into the tournament, swatted 60 winners with 64 unforced errors, setting the tempo and baffling Halep at times in a tension-packed thriller at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"This girl has a lot of grit," Sharapova said of herself. "And she's not going anywhere."

Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open, improved to 7-0 in her all-time rivalry with Halep, extending her mastery over the 25-year-old Romanian.

"I just thought this was another day, another opportunity, another match but this was so much more," Sharapova said. "You sometimes wonder why you put in all the work and this is exactly why."

Sharapova return popular at Flushing Meadows

An emotional Sharapova punctuated her shotmaking, at times erratic and other moments spectacular, with screams and fist pumps. She was energetic even at rest, closing her eyes and bouncing her legs as she sat between sets.

After the final point, Sharapova dropped to her knees in tears as a replay appeal showed what she already knew.

She later battled back tears as she blew kisses to spectators, sobbed at times and mouthed "Thank you" to fans that were devoted throughout the two hour and 45 minute drama.

"You never know what you're going to feel until you win that match point," she said. "It was so worth it."

Sharapova, whose major titles include the 2006 US Open, advanced to a second-round matchup against Hungarian Timea Babos, whom she has never played.

Sharapova won only 5 of 22 break points in the match while Halep won 4 of 10 and produced only 15 winners against 14 unforced errors.

It was Sharapova's first Grand Slam match since a quarter-final loss to Serena Williams in last year's Australian Open.

Sharapova, ranked 146th, returned in April but the French Open refused her a wildcard entry and she missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury.

Asked about her low points, Sharapova, said, "There were definitely a few but I don't think this is the time to talk about that."

Sharapova: "It's prime time"

Sharapova walked onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium to rousing applause. She wore a black dress, visor, socks and shoes, the same style she sported in taking the trophy nine years ago on the New York hardcourts.

Halep hit a backhand long to hand Sharapova a break and 2-0 lead in the last set and the Russian held to the finish, escaping a break point in the final game when Halep netted a forehand.

A Sharapova backhand winner set up match point and brought huge applause but a thunderous ovation came when Halep hit a forehand long to end it, boosting Sharapova to 18-0 in night matches at Ashe.

"It's prime time baby," she said. "I love it."

Reigning Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza advanced and British seventh seed Johanna Konta was ousted in other women's matches.

Spanish third seed Muguruza defeated American Varvara Lepchenko 6-0, 6-3. Muguruza can reach the US Open third round for the first time Wednesday by defeating China's Duan Ying-Ying.

"Coming to US Open and having a dark past in the results, I keep it with low expectations," Muguruza said.

Serbia's 78th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic upset Australian-born Konta 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, removing the only other top-10 player from Sharapova's draw quarter.

"It's definitely not an easy loss to take," Konta said. "She played consistently much better than I did."