Maria Sharapova fell to her knees and buried her face in her palms. The roar of the crowd cascaded down the rows of seats, rolling on itself until it had reached a boiling crescendo. Then the roar wrapped itself around her as a resounding proclamation.
That message reverberated through the walls of the WTA locker room. Maria Sharapova had just announced her return to prime time tennis – “prime time baby” as she said in her on-court interview. She had done so in typical Maria fashion, fighting through a nail biting contest to eliminate the second seed, Simona Halep, from the U.S open.
In doing so, Sharapova debunked any articles – including this one – predicting a first defeat at the hands of Halep. In that article, I discussed the sheer nature of the beast Simona was up against while concluding she would prevail against a vulnerable Sharapova. The problem for Halep was no vulnerable Sharapova showed up last night. In many ways, it was like she had never left. Sharapova cracked return winners from both wings, hit screaming aces and wild double faults with her ever erratic serve and basically bossed Halep around like she never left.
Indeed if there was one sign of Sharapova’s dulled battle skills, it was in blowing a 4 – 1 second set lead and letting Simona Halep back into the match. Credit Simona for her fighting spirit and taking advantage of Sharapova’s dip in play. She hung tough and traded brutal baseline blows with a woman who is still considered one of the game’s fiercest competitors.
In the end, it wasn’t good enough. Sharapova, despite a long layoff from the game, proved to be just that much better than Halep. She notched up her seventh victory in as many matches against the Romanian. In doing so, she took the first real stride to erasing the bitter taste of her ban from the mouth of fans and tennis lovers alike.
This defeat has to sting for Halep. She’d come in with as much preparation as she possibly could. She is ranked number two in the world and was one of the favorites to win this tournament. Yet she couldn’t get over that perennial obstacle, the big power baseliner. This time the trap was sprung in the first round and though she leaped, she was caught in it. Let’s hope she can shake off the confidence dampening blow this loss dealt her.
As for Maria Sharapova, she steps right into Halep’s place in some style. 18 – 0 in night matches at the U.S open. Is she a contender? In her own words, she isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.