Maria Sharapova serves to Simona Halep during their first-round match at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York on Monday. Photo: CFPFormer world No.1 Maria Sharapova made a triumphant return to Grand Slam competition on Monday after a 15-month doping ban, outlasting second-ranked Simona Halep 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 at the US Open.
The 30-year-old Russian, who had only one hard-court tuneup match due to a nagging forearm injury, swatted 60 winners with 64 unforced errors, setting the tempo and baffling Halep at times in a tension-packed thriller at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"This girl has a lot of grit," Sharapova said of herself. "And she's not going anywhere."
Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open, improved to 7-0 in her all-time rivalry with Halep, extending her mastery over the 25-year-old Romanian.
"I just thought this was another day, another opportunity, another match but this was so much more," Sharapova said.
"You sometimes wonder why you put in all the work and this is exactly why."
An emotional Sharapova punctuated her shotmaking, at times erratic and other moments spectacular, with screams and fist pumps. She was energetic even at rest, closing her eyes and bouncing her legs as she sat between sets.
After the final point, Sharapova dropped to her knees in tears as a replay appeal showed what she already knew.
She later battled back tears as she blew kisses to spectators, sobbed at times and mouthed "Thank you" to fans who were devoted throughout the two-hour and 45-minute drama.
Sharapova, ranked 146th, returned in April but the French Open snubbed her for a wild-card entry and she missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury.
Sharapova, whose major titles include the 2006 US Open, advanced to a second-round match-up against Hungarian Timea Babos, whom she has never played.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza advanced and British seventh seed Johanna Konta was ousted in other women's matches.
Spanish third seed Muguruza defeated American Varvara Lepchenko 6-0, 6-3. Muguruza can reach the US Open third round for the first time on Wednesday by defeating China's Duan Yingying.
Serbia's 78th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic upset Australian-born Konta 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, removing the only other top-10 player from Sharapova's draw quarter.
In the men's competition, German fourth seed Alexander Zverev, the top-ranked player in his half of the draw, saved two set points in the first tiebreaker and downed stubborn Barbados qualifier and Slam debutant Darian King 7-6 (11/9), 7-5, 6-4.
Croatian fifth seed Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion and last month's Wimbledon runner-up, ousted 105th-ranked American Tennys Sandgren 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.