Maria Sharapova defeated #2 Simona Halep (6-4, 4-6, 6-3) in the opening round of the U.S. Open on Monday night. It’s Sharapova’s first Grand Slam appearance since the 2016 Australian Open where she failed a drug test. Then ranked #4 in the world, she’s been serving a 15-month ban that saw her drop out of the top 250. With the win, it’s like she was never gone.
Highlights from her match show up on the first half of Sportscenter broadcasts.
She’s inspiring blog posts like this one. She’s wearing Nike again — a year and a half after they suspended her 8-year, $70 million deal. Nike wasted no time as she launched a new clothing line over the weekend.
During her time off she wrote a book.
She’s also back on magazine covers.
And why not? Just because she has only made it out of the 2nd round once since returning from suspension doesn’t mean she’s not a serious contender. Via ESPN:
And at an event that began without Serena Williams, who is expecting a baby, and already is missing two of its top seven seeded women — No. 7 Johanna Konta, a Wimbledon semifinalist just last month, was upset by 78th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 — Sharapova must be considered a serious title contender. She did, after all, win the U.S. Open in 2006.
Well, jeez. She just won this tournament a decade ago, so watch out.
Sharapova last won a Grand Slam title at the 2014 French Open. It’s been five years since she was the top-ranked woman in the world. She was ranked 2nd in August 2015. With Serena Williams out, it’s not that Sharapova has a chance, it’s that sponsors and broadcasters really want her to have a chance.