Battling Sharapova makes winning return at Stanford

Maria Sharapova hitting a forehand against American Jennifer Brady in the opening round of the Stanford Classic. The Russian had five aces and nine double faults in her victory.
Maria Sharapova hitting a forehand against American Jennifer Brady in the opening round of the Stanford Classic. The Russian had five aces and nine double faults in her victory.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • Maria Sharapova made a battling return to US hardcourts on Monday with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 victory over American Jennifer Brady in Stanford, California.

"I feel like I just want to hug everyone and say thank you," the five-time Grand Slam champion told fans in a post-match interview. "It's my first match in the States in a really long time, and it's the closest thing to home for me."

The former world No. 1, who lives in the United States, had not played competitively in the country since March 2015.

She returned from a 15-month doping suspension for the use of meldonium in April. But her comeback has been disrupted by a hip injury that forced her to withdraw from Wimbledon qualifying.

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The Russian, whose ranking has fallen to No. 171 in the world, received a wild card into the premier level tournament in Stanford, where she was tested on Monday by the 80th-ranked Brady.

Sharapova got off to a brisk start in her first-round match. Although she needed to save three break points in the sixth game to take a 5-1 lead in the opening set, she broke in the next game to seize the set before Brady won the second.

"I had a bit of a letdown but that's the way it is," she said. "You finish a set and think you've got it, but she came out firing (and was) capable of hitting winners and big serves."

Early in the third set, Sharapova, 30, fought off two break points to consolidate her lead, and wrapped up the match after two hours and two minutes.

"I feel like I face a lot of things - not competing for a long time (and) an opponent who's able to play some great tennis," she said.

"I feel like I'm playing catch-up against everyone who's had a head start.

"All that matters is that I keep playing."

Sharapova, who has also accepted a wild card into the WTA tournament in Cincinnati - another key warm-up for the US Open - booked a second-round meeting with seventh-seeded Lesia Tsurenko. The Ukrainian beat Spain's Lara Arruabarrena 6-3, 6-3.

Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is the top seed.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Battling Sharapova makes winning return at Stanford'. Print Edition | Subscribe