|Russia’s Maria Sharapova serves the ball to Hungary’s Timea Babos during their 2017 US Open Women’s Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 30. — AFP Photo
NEW YORK — Maria Sharapova’s Grand Slam return from her doping ban continued Wednesday when the former world No 1 reached the US Open last 32 with a 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 6-1 win over Timea Babos of Hungary.
The 2006 champion fired 12 aces with 39 winners and 36 unforced errors.
The Russian star, who knocked out second seed Simona Halep in the first round, will face either Sofia Kenin or Sachia Vickery, both of the United States, for a place in the last 16.
"It was a scrappy match but every time I step on the court here it’s a special day," said the 30-year-old five-time major winner.
"But I felt fresh and I wanted to be the fittest player out there."
Sharapova, playing her first Slam since serving a 15-month ban imposed after the 2016 Australian Open, dropped the first set against the 59th-ranked Babos.
At the changeover, 146-ranked Sharapova, abandoned one of the arm-length, black sleeves she had been wearing.
It seemed to do the trick as she broke in the first game.
But Babos recovered the break at 2-2 on the back of a fifth double fault.
Wildcard Sharapova then fought off two break points in the sixth game and from that point she did not look back, going on to coast through the decider in just 28 minutes.
Alexander Zverev appeared to have the perfect draw for a deep run at the US Open, but now the 20-year-old German star can only ponder what might have been.
Fourth-seeded Zverev, the highest-ranked player in his half of the draw after Britain’s second-ranked Andy Murray withdrew Saturday, crashed out of the year’s final Grand Slam event on Wednesday, falling to Croatia’s 61st-ranked Borna Coric 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (7/4).
"It’s upsetting. Today was upsetting. The way I played was upsetting. The tournament so far is upsetting for me," Zverev said.
"I was the highest-ranked player in the bottom half of the draw after Andy retired. Now I’m out of the draw."
Zverev reached the New York hardcourts off his best Grand Slam result, a fourth-round run at Wimbledon, and his five ATP titles this year included back-to-back US Open tuneup crowns at Washington and Montreal, beating Roger Federer in the Canadian final.
"I know that I could have done some big things here. I know that I could have done something that I haven’t done before. But I won’t. It’s just as simple as that," Zverev said.
"It’s upsetting because the draw is pretty open in the bottom part. I felt like I should have been the favorite there. I just played a very, very bad match, so it’s unfortunate."
Zverev said the major expectations upon him with such a wide open field, aided by injuries to Murray and other top stars, did not impact his play.
"I’ve been dealing with expectations from a very young age," Zverev said.
"I don’t think about it. I just try to play every match the same way. Luckily for me most of the time this year I was winning."
On the Grandstand court, nicknamed the "Graveyard of Champions" after past upsets, Zverev made 58 unforced errors with 22 aces and 43 winners. — AFP
"Physically I’m fine. I just played very, very bad in the second and third set," Zverev said. "I should have won the third. I definitely should have won the fourth.
"My level wasn’t high today, so that’s more the problem."
Coric won the last five points of the 12th game in the final set after Zverev was one point from breaking to force a fifth set.
"He played really well on the breakpoints. Maybe had a little bit of luck on his side as well," Zverev said. "Caught the line, had a few let cords and stuff like this.
"Everything was just a little bit against me."
Zverev was inconsolable when it came to having him ponder the season-ending ATP Finals or other future events.
"I just lost the second round of a major where I shouldn’t have lost, so I’m not thinking about the rest of the year," he said.
"For me, nothing changes. I still have to go back to work and then try to win this title maybe in the future years."