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Maria Sharapova Returns With Electrifying Win Over Simona Halep

For the first time in 19 months, Maria Sharapova walked on court for a Grand Slam match, this time under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium to a warm reception on a cool Monday night. She wore a black dress and a look of determination, just as she did on the night in 2006 when she beat Justine Henin-Hardenne to win her only United States Open title.

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This was only a first-round match, but it had a marquee feel. Sharapova, the five-time Grand Slam champion who received a wild-card berth while still rebuilding her ranking after a suspension for drug use, was pitted against Simona Halep, the No. 2 seed seeking her first major title and, potentially, the No. 1 ranking.

In front of a crowd riveted by the unusually high drama, the former champion beat the aspiring one. Sharapova shook off any semblance of Grand Slam rust to stun Halep, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, in a thrilling opening-night performance that could vault Sharapova from curiosity onto a shortlist of contenders.

When she finally won, she dropped to her hands and knees as if she had just won the trophy, and then shed tears of joy after waving to the crowdWhat she did not do is play like a 30-year-old who had not played at Flushing Meadows in three years. She performed like vintage Sharapova: aggressive, agile, and fearless, earning a berth in the second round, where she will face Timea Babos of Hungary.

What she did not do is play like a 30-year-old who had not played at Flushing Meadows in three years. She performed like vintage Sharapova: aggressive, agile, and fearless, earning a berth in the second round, where she will face Timea Babos of Hungary.

Halep had the poor fortune of being paired against a former No. 1 player in the first round — one who had gone 6-0 against her head-to-head and 18-0 over all in night matches at Ashe Stadium.

This, of course, was no ordinary wild card.

Still, Halep was supposed to be the more conditioned player, the one with better timing and rhythm. Sharapova had only played one match since May, and only 10 matches since the 2016 Australian Open, where she lost to Serena Williams, her nemesis, in a quarterfinal. Surely, the long layoff would be a factor.

Although Halep played valiantly amid difficult circumstances, Sharapova demonstrated her intent from the second shot, a screaming backhand winner behind Halep. It was a tactical theme to be replayed numerous times, and Sharapova never stopped applying pressure on her opponent.

So Halep joined Johanna Konta of Britain, the No. 7 seed and Wimbledon finalist who lost to Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia by 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, as the first two players seeded in the top

10 to be knocked out.

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