Maria Sharapova advanced to the third round of the 2017 U.S. Open after beating Timea Babos in three sets, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-1, on Wednesday evening at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Sharapova made a stunning return to Grand Slam action in the first round when she upset second-seeded Simona Halep in three sets. It was her first match at one of the four major tournaments since the 2016 Australian Open, following a 15-month suspension after testing positive for a banned substance.
Any momentum Sharapova generated from that victory faded quickly as she dropped two of her first three service games and trailed 3-5 early on in the first set. The U.S. Open's official Twitter account summed up Sharapova's performance to that point:
US Open Tennis @usopen
Maria Sharapova is having a hard time getting going on Ashe. Babos leads 3-2 in the opening set. https://t.co/1j0RKut9Tu #USOpen https://t.co/VDAa03LcwC2017-8-30 20:36:07
Sharapova clawed back to tie the set at 5-5 before dropping serve to put Babos a game away from taking a 1-0 set lead. Sharapova forced a tiebreaker but got off to a slow start as Babos gained an early 4-1 advantage and eventually claimed the tiebreak 7-4.
WTA Insider thought Sharapova didn't show the same energy she had Monday night, which may have resulted from fatigue after going three sets against Halep:
WTA Insider @WTA_insider
Timea Babos takes the 1st set 76(4) over Maria Sharapova. MS lacking a bit of the explosiveness on display Monday night. #USOpen2017-8-30 21:14:45
Sharapova committed four double-faults in 19 unforced errors as she struggled to find consistency on either her serve or her groundstrokes from the baseline.
The 30-year-old Russian rebounded in the second set by winning the first two games. But Babos tied the set after holding serve in the third game and breaking Sharapova for the fourth time in the match.
Sharapova held serve for the remainder of the set and broke Babos in the seventh game, which was enough to seal the set 6-4.
In general, the 2006 U.S. Open champion was much sharper. She got 68 percent of her first serves in, compared to 56 percent in the first set, while her unforced error total dropped to 12.
Sharapova was also able to better dictate the pace of the match from the baseline, especially with her forehand. Babos had just two winners in the second set.
Sharapova was even better in the third set as she dropped three points on serve. She also forced four break-opponent opportunities, converting on three.
She'll face off against either Sofia Kenin or Sachia Vickery in the next round and has yet to oppose either player at a WTA event.
Sharapova hasn't advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open since her semifinal appearance in 2013. Based on her first two matches, the quarterfinals may now be the minimum expectation for her stay in Flushing Meadows.
She already knocked out Halep, the top seed from her quarter of the draw, while seventh-seeded Johanna Konta exited in the first round at the hands of Aleksandra Krunic. Things are shaping up well for Sharapova to make a deep run in the tournament.