Sharapova plays No. 2 Halep in US Open 1st round

NEW YORK • Maria Sharapova may have benefited from the generosity of US Open officials in being awarded a wild card to the tennis tournament, but she was not dealt such a kind hand from the draw gods. The Russian doping offender will play Simona Halep, the second seed, in the first round.

There was an audible gasp from onlookers at the draw ceremony on Friday when the match-up was revealed on the big screens in New York's Seaport District.

"That's the one player everybody wanted to see where she would land... no top seed wanted to draw Maria Sharapova first round," former US Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. "I don't think Maria's going to be intimidated, because I don't think anyone intimidates her."

Defending champion Angelique Kerber said: "It's an exciting match. I mean, for the first round, it's a tough match for both of them."

Sharapova's low ranking of 147 meant that there was a good chance that she would come up against a seed in the early rounds.

The 30-year-old has played just one match since retiring from the Italian Open in Rome in May with a left thigh injury, and recently withdrew from tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati because of pain in her left forearm.

Given her lack of action, an opening test against Halep is not ideal. She, however, has defeated Halep on all six occasions that they have played, including the French Open final in 2014.

With the men's event hit by a number of injuries to top players, the stage is set for a long-awaited first meeting in the US Open between top seed Rafael Nadal and third-seeded Roger Federer .

Federer and Nadal have faced off four times at the Australian Open, five times at the French Open and three times at Wimbledon.

They are likely to clash in the semi-finals in New York, with both players in the top half of the draw.

Federer has been the superior player on hard courts this season. In the fourth round, the Swiss great could face Nick Kyrgios, a recent finalist in Cincinnati, or Sam Querrey, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon. He could meet sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals.

Nadal is in the same quarter as seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, who is coming off a title run in Cincinnati.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Sharapova plays No. 2 Halep in US Open 1st round'. Print Edition | Subscribe