NEW YORK — She held her hand on her heart and mouthed the words, “Thank you,” to the crowd, though it seemed as if the US Open should have been thanking? Maria Sharapova. It was almost 11 o’clock at night, and the crowd kept cheering.
Just a few days ago, there were some who said Sharapova shouldn’t have received a wild card to play in the US Open. Now, she looks as if she might just carry the women’s side of the tournament in a year without? Serena Williams.
Playing in her first Grand Slam in 19 months after a drug suspension, Sharapova knocked off No. 2 seed? Simona Halep?6-4, 4-6, 6-3 Monday on opening night.
The night had the electricity of a finals match — a packed house under the open roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium, with Alec Baldwin and Pharrell in the stands and long and intense rallies punctuated by Sharapova’s grunts and powerful smashes. Sharapova dropped to the ground when it was over, her hands on the hardcourt, and cried.
Her last Grand Slam appearance was at the Australian Open in January 2016, when she tested positive for meldonium. Sharapova was banned for two years, but she appealed and had her punishment reduced to 15 months. Her comeback tour was far from charmed. She heard the grousing from other players who did not think she should receive wild cards. In May,? Eugenie Bouchard?called Sharapova a cheater and said she should be banned from tennis, just before Bouchard beat Sharapova at the Madrid Open.
Sharapova was denied wild-card entry to the French Open, and she missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury.
During postmatch interviews late Monday night, she didn’t want to revisit her suspension. But this summer, she wrote an article in the Players’ Tribune describing the pain she felt over all of the criticism from her peers.
“I don’t think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore,” she wrote. “And I don’t think it will ever not be weird or hurtful to go through.”
Sharapova didn’t exactly go into a shell during her…