Sharapova at the US Open: 'This gritty girl is not going anywhere'
Sharapova makes triumphant return to Grand Slam tennis with win over second seed Halep
It was a performance as dazzling as the crystal-encrusted black dress she was wearing as Maria Sharapova sent a warning to her rivals that behind the glamour, there's tons of grit.
The 30-year-old Russian star marked her return to Grand Slam tennis after serving a 15-month doping ban with a thrilling 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over second seed Simona Halep at the US Open yesterday morning (Singapore time).
It was her 50th appearance at a Major but first since last year's Australian Open quarter-finals and her first at the US Open for three years.
But it was like she had never been away as she took her night-time record at the Arthur Ashe Stadium to 18 wins in 18 matches.
Fittingly, Sharapova played in a black dress, just as she had done in 2006 when she was crowned champion, one of her five Grand Slam titles.
"Behind this little black dress and the Swarovski crystals, there is a girl with a lot of grit and she's not going anywhere," Sharapova said after seeing off Halep for the seventh time in seven meetings.
Sharapova returned to tennis only in April after her ban had run its course, but she was refused a wildcard into the French Open, while a thigh injury put paid to her hopes of playing at Wimbledon.
With her ranking down at 146th, she needed another wildcard to get into the main draw of the US Open, but she was in danger of missing New York after picking up an arm injury at Stanford, where she played her only hardcourt match of the year.
"You try and think it's another day, another opportunity but it was so much more," said Sharapova, who fell to her knees in tears after her thrilling triumph.
"You never know how you are going to feel until match-point, but you figure it's all worth it."
The eye-catching crystals sewn into her black and lace number were a perfect teaser for TV cameras for the night session on Arthur Ashe.
"It's prime time baby!" she said with a smile.
"Sometimes, you wonder why you put in all the hard work - this is exactly why."
Sharapova ended with 60 winners and 64 unforced errors and converting just five of her 22 break opportunities.
It was the type of all-or-nothing assault that has served her well since she first burst on the scene with the 2004 Wimbledon title.
That victory, which came when she was still a giggly 17-year-old, launched her into superstardom.
However, she is aware that having passed 30 in April, there is a danger of shrinking opportunities.
Said Sharapova, who missed last year's US Open due to her suspension and the 2015 event to injury: "From the moment that I've been here, I've really understood what this means to me, to be back and to be playing."
Sharapova almost missed this year's edition as well as she battled her left arm injury, skipping the Toronto and Cinicinnati events and undergoing two MRI scans on the problem.
Then last Friday, she was drawn to play world No. 2 Halep.
"From the second I found out I was playing Simona, I was actually getting my nails done, I got my phone out and I pulled up YouTube videos of our matches," she explained.
"The fact that I was able to come out and play that way, beat the No. 2 player in the world in the first round of the US Open, it's been a while." - AFP