Maria Sharapova def Simona Halep 64 46 63
Thriller. Set-1’s game-4 foreshadowed the entire match. It was an epic eight-minute prize fight featuring five deuces, and Sharapova’s first break. The two traded breaks like baseball cards, both relentless on return. The match became a baseline slog soaked in stellar shot-making; marinated in the competitive intensity of a Slam Semifinal. Arthur Ashe Stadium’s packed house lapped it up…and in her first Slam match in 19-months, Maria Sharapova took set-1 with her return game.
Monday night was Simona Halep’s seventh stab at Sharapova’s disciplined agression. Clearly, the World #2 had the worst luck among the Open’s top eight seeds, drawing a 5-time Major Champion “Wild Card” for the opening round; an opponent she’d never defeated. Remarkably, down a set and a break in the second, Halep turned it around, winning five consecutive games, and serving out the set. Ashe was lit. Chants of “SEE-MO-NA, SEE-MO-NA” echoed off the retractable roof. At 10:00pm, 2-hours in, we launched into the decider.
Everything went right for Sharapova at the start of set-3, and she found herself up 3-0 by the first sit-down. The baseline slog continued, both players electrifying Opening Night ticket-holders including the night’s performer Shania Twain. Up 5-3, serving for the match, Maria fell behind 0-30, battled through a break-point, then secured the win at 10:47pm, collapsing to the court in tears as Halep sent a forehand long. After a 19-month suspension, the 2006 US Open Champ is back, proving to herself: “This girl has a lot of grit and she’s not going anywhere.”