It was a first-round match, but only in name.
In what felt like a final, Maria Sharapova’s first match at a Grand Slam since the 2016 Australian Open saw her remain undefeated against World No. 2 Simona Halep. Sharapova started hot and finished strong in a 6-4, 4-6. 6-3 win at the US Open to improve to 7-0 over Halep and 18-0 in night matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The blockbuster matchup was always assured to be the headline match of the first week in New York, but no one could have foreseen Sharapova’s blistering form after an arm injury cut short nearly her entire summer hard-court season. Since reaching the semifinals in her first event since returning from her meldonium suspension, the 30-year-old had neither been impressive nor healthy. The US Open was her first major back due to the French Open denying her a wild card and injury forcing her out of Wimbledon qualifying.
Sharapova was the aggressor all match, hitting 60 winners and 64 errors, compared to a 15-14 ratio for Halep, who fought hard as usual but paid dearly for her weak serving, trailing in almost all of her service games. Halep sees her streak of 10 straight quarterfinals snapped, which dates back to Miami in the spring.
The five-time major champion was quite emotional after the match and provided some memorable quotes on court, the most notable referring to her sparkly dress:
"Behind all these Swarovski crystals is a girl with a lot of grit, and she's not going anywhere." M. SHARAPOVA (RUS) #usopen
— David Kane (@DKTNNS) August 29, 2017
Sharapova’s draw is quite kind going forward. With hard-court threat Johanna Konta out in a surprising upset on Monday, Sharapova has no top 10 seeds remaining in her path until at least the semifinals. The question now is if she can maintain this form with so little match play in her pocket.