Sharapova sheds tears of joy at super Slam comeback
An emotional Maria Sharapova collapsed to the court in tears after knocking out Simona Halep in a show-stopping return to Grand Slam tennis. The first round US Open blockbuster lived up to the hype under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium, with Sharapova ultimately overpowering Halep to win 6-4 4-6 6-3 in her first Grand Slam appearance since serving a 15-month doping ban.
The 2006 champion had looked set to win in straight sets when she led 4-1 in the second only to let it slip, but recovered to clinch a dramatic victory after two hours and 44 minutes.
Sharapova, not known for public displays of emotion, dropped to her knees and then sat and sobbed on her chair.
Addressing the crowd, the 30-year-old said: "I just thought this was another day, another opportunity, another match but this was so much more. You sometimes wonder why you put in all the work and this is why."
What had she learned from a match that felt more like a final?
"That this girl has a lot of grit and she is not going anywhere," said Sharapova.
Snubbed by the French Open and then injured for Wimbledon, where she would have had to fight her way through qualifying, Sharapova was given a wild card in New York.
From the start it was clear Sharapova was fit and in the mood to write headlines on the court at last. She said: "When the draw came out, I knew what a difficult match-up this would be, how much excitement was behind this and the hype.
"It almost seemed like I had no right to win this match. And I somehow did. I think that is what I'm most proud of.
"I have to value the feeling that I have now. I can't take that for granted. This is a big win for me and I will enjoy it, then move on to the next one."
Halep was one of the critics of the decision to give Sharapova a wild card for her comeback in Stuttgart, although took a more conciliatory approach here.
Sharapova needed no extra motivation and set about pummelling the Halep serve.
The cavernous arena almost swallowed up the famous Sharapova shriek as both the winner and error counts rocketed (the Russian's final tally of 60 winners and 64 errors compared to 15 and 14 for Halep).
Sharapova's lack of match toughness showed in the second set as she lost five straight games, but she regrouped in the third set and did not allow the same thing to happen again.
Halep said: "I'm sad, of course, losing this match. But I think I gave everything I had."
Sharapova moves through to a second round meeting with Hungary's Timea Babos today.