Sharapova stuns Halep in grand slam return at US Open
Former world number one Maria Sharapova made a triumphant return to grand slam tennis after upstaging second seed Simona Halep in the first round of the US Open.
Sharapova walked onto Arthur Ashe for her first slam match since testing positive for a banned substance at the 2016 Australian Open and won 6-4 4-6 6-3 after almost three hours on Monday.
The five-time major champion made her return from a 15-month ban for violating anti-doping rules in April, but was denied a wildcard for the French Open and then pulled out of Wimbledon qualifying through injury.
When world number 146 Sharapova did return, via Flushing Meadows as a wildcard this week, she brought an intensity and aggression to her match that proved too hot to handle for Halep – who won five successive games to force a deciding set but eventually fell to a seventh career defeat without reply against the Russian star.
Sharapova – winner of the US Open in 2006 – was greeted with a loud ovation as she made her first appearance at Flushing Meadows since 2014.
As expected, there was some rustiness on Sharapova's racket but the 30-year-old showed why she is still one of the best in the sport.
Halep – runner-up at the Cincinnati Masters and one of eight players in contention for the WTA's top ranking – earned an opportunity to break, which was dealt with by Sharapova, who then had four break-point chances in the very next game.
A 16-shot rally brought up the first opportunity after Halep sent a forehand long but a great second serve down the tee dug herself out of a hole.
After fending off a second, Halep showcased her defensive skills to cover the entire court as Sharapova fired a backhand volley into the net on her third attempt. The Russia, however, was not to be denied at the fourth time of asking as she attacked the Romanian's second serve for a 3-1 lead.
Halep battled tirelessly to put the match back on serve, only for Sharapova reclaim the break immediately at 30-40 and that trend of breaks continued into a fourth successive game as the latter responded.
That run of breaks ended until Sharapova broke again in the 10th game as she closed out the hour-long first set.
It was all about Halep and her fighting spirit in the second set. Sharapova threatened to run away with the match after taking a 4-1 lead.
However, Sharapova faltered as she neared the finish line – Halep reeling off five successive games to avoid elimination and sent the match into a third set after the latter only converted one of 11 break-point opportunities.
Sharapova hit back in the decider, racing out to a 3-0 lead and Halep was unable to produce another comeback as her opponent maintained the break and set up a second-round meeting with Timea Babos.
Sharapova bt Halep  6-4 4-6 6-3
Sharapova - 60/54
Halep - 15/14
Sharapova - 7/7
Halep - 1/4
BREAK POINTS WON
Sharapova - 5/22
Halep - 4/10
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Sharapova - 58
Halep - 67
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Sharapova - 65/47
Halep - 62/38
Sharapova - 113
Halep - 108