Sharapova again orchestrates late-night U.S. Open finish

Maria Sharapova vs. Simona Halep was the instant cream of the crop among first-round matchups when the 2017 U.S. Open draws were revealed last Friday. To say it did not disappoint on Monday night would be an understatement.

In front of an energized crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium, with the 20th anniversary of the court celebrated beforehand, Sharapova and Halep battled for two hours and 44 minutes. It was Sharapova who finally came out on top of the high-quality contest, prevailing 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

“There was a little extra on the line,” the Russian assured. “These are the types of matches you play later in a Grand Slam. The level we played at was really great. We can be proud of that.”

Halep has no reason to hang her head despite an early exit from the year’s final Grand Slam. The second-seeded Romanian trailed by a set and by 4-1 in the second, even facing a break point that almost put her in a 5-1 hole. But she saved it and then stormed back to take five games in a row, stealing the second set and sending the showdown into a decider. This time, though, Halep could not dig herself out of an early deficit.

“I’m sad, of course, losing this match,” Halep commented. “But I think I [gave] everything I had. She was better…. It was a tough one for first round, for sure. But still I think I played okay. She played really well. It was a good match. It was good for the fans.”

It was especially good for Sharapova, who had missed three of the last four U.S. Opens–including each of the last two, most recently due to suspension.

“I realized how long it had been since I played at the U.S. Open,” Sharapova said of her emotional reaction to the win. “Just the thought of being back here…. From the moment that I’ve been here, I’ve really understood what this means to me, to be back and to be playing.”

Alexander Zverev and Darian King were next up in Arthur Ashe Stadium and they ended up finishing their match at 2:04 in the morning. It was not the first time that extended Sharapova drama has pushed a U.S. Open men’s match past 2:00 a.m. In 2012, John Isner and Philipp Kohlschreiber followed a three-set win by the Russian with a five-setter of their own–won by Kohlschreiber at 2:26 a.m., tying the latest conclusion in tournament history.

Zverev prevented the record from being set because he got the job done in straight sets against King, but the 7-6(9), 7-5, 6-4 decision that lasted two hours and 49 minutes was competitive from start to finish.

“He surprised me a lot with how well he handled my fastballs,” the 20-year-old German said of King. “I thought I obviously didn’t play my best, but I thought I was hitting the ball well. He always had answers to my quick balls, to my pace. He’s a very, very quick player. So I’m happy to be through. Obviously the ranking says he’s whatever, 150 in the world. He definitely didn’t play like it today.”

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