NEW YORK—When Maria Sharapova's first Grand Slam match after a 15-month doping suspension ended with a victory at the U.S. Open, she dropped to her knees and covered her face, tears welling in her eyes.
This was merely a win to get to the second round, yes, but it also clearly meant so much more to Sharapova.
It meant she was back.
Displaying as much emotion on court as she ever did after one of her five major championships, Sharapova recovered after faltering midway through the match and emerged to beat No. 2-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 over more than two-and-a-half hours last night.
“Behind all these Swarovski crystals and little black dresses, this girl has a lot of grit and she's not going anywhere,” Sharapova told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.
So much about Sharapova was the same as it ever was: the shot-punctuating shrieks, the aggressive baseline style, the terrific returning, the sometimes-shaky serving.
Another familiar sight: she gutted out a win.
“It's been a while,” said Sharapova, who missed additional time after her ban because of injuries.
“It almost seemed like I had no right to win this match today," she added. ”And I somehow did.
“I think that is what I'm most proud of.”
After leading by a set and 4-1 in the second, Sharapova 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.
Sharapova had not played at a Grand Slam tournament since January, 2016, when she tested positive for the newly-banned heart drug meldonium during the Australian Open.
The 30-year-old Russian was allowed back on the tour this April, but she was denied a wild-card invitation for the French Open the next month.
The U.S. Tennis Association did grant a wild card to Sharapova, who once was ranked No. 1 but currently is 146th.
Halep was among eight women who entered the U.S. Open with a chance to top the WTA rankings by tournament's end.
The draw at Flushing Meadows randomly paired the two players—providing a buzz-generating matchup that managed to live up to the hype on Day 1 at the year's last Grand Slam tournament.
“I gave everything I had," Halep said. "She was better.”
For her part, Sharapova wasn't interested in looking too far ahead just yet.
“This is a big win for me and I will enjoy it," she said. "Then move on to the next one.”
Meanwhile, Denis Shapovalov's outstanding summer kept rolling with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Russia's Daniil Medvedev in the first round of the U.S. Open yesterday.
The 18-year-old Canadian, who became the youngest player to reach the semi-finals of an ATP Masters 1000 event at the Rogers Cup in Montreal earlier this month, had to qualify to get into the U.S. Open main draw.
Next up for the 69th-ranked Shapovalov will be eighth-seeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 winner over Marius Copil of Romania.