NEW YORK – Maria Sharapova extended her grand slam comeback when the former world number one defeated Hungary’s Timea Babos 6-7(4) 6-4 6-1 on Wednesday to advance to the US Open third round.
The Russian, in her first appearance at a major since she returned from a 15-month doping ban in April, did not have the same inspiration that helped her beat world number two Simona Halep in the opening round.
Sharapova, who was granted a wildcard entry to the tournament, made too many unforced errors in a scrappy first set that featured six breaks of serve.
Once she found her groove midway through the second set, however, the 30-year-old, sporting a pale peach pink crystal-encrusted dress, eventually shone like a diamond, tossing Babos aside in a one-sided decider.
The Hungarian bowed out on the second match point when she sailed a backhand long, triggering a huge roar on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The Russian has a clear path to the semi-finals, where she could meet tournament favourite Garbine Muguruza of Spain.
Sharapova got off to a shaky start as Babos, who mixed her game perfectly with serves to the body and sliced forehands, opened a 2-0 lead.
The Russian eventually forced a tiebreak but made a mess of a couple of forehands to hand Babos a deserved lead.
Sharapova became more vocal as she saved break points in a sixth game that proved to be the turning point of the match.
The 2006 US Open champion broke in the following game and held to clinch the second set as Babos sensed her chance was gone.
Sharapova then broke twice in the decider to move 4-1 ahead and ensure her third round place was a formality.
Although the two wins have boosted her confidence, she was not complacent as she prepares for her next match against American Sofia Kenin.
“I certainly have expectations just because I know I’ve been in these stages before and I’ve been able to execute,” she said.
“There’s a certain level of I know I can do this, I’ve done it before. I want to have that feeling again.
“But there’s also the realistic understanding of ‘okay, you haven’t been in this situation for a while. It’s going to take a little time’.”
Sharapova returned to tennis in April after being banned for testing positive for meldonium at last year’s Australian Open.
Her progress has been slowed by a thigh injury that forced her out of the Italian Open in May and more recently left arm issues that took her out of the second round at Stanford earlier this month. (Editing by Ed Osmond/Greg Stutchbury)
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