Serena Williams’s return to the Arthur Ashe Stadium proved a stunning contrast to her last appearance she imperiously crushed old foe Maria Sharapova on the first night of the US Open. The 37-year-old American took only 59 minutes to humble Sharapova 6-1, 6-1 before an expectant crowd under the lights of Flushing Meadows. Her excellence reduced the evening to something of a non-event. Obviously I am going against a player who has won five Grand Slams, every practice after the draw was super intense,’ said Williams. ‘When you play her have to be super focussed. She gets momentum and gets going, it was a fun match. The body is good, my back is a lot better, I’m excited.’
Getting past such an awkward first round represents the perfect tournament start for Williams as she seeks a 24th Grand Slam title, and should sound a warning to other contenders. After the opening night ceremony featuring Billie Jean King, and watched by the likes of Spike Lee and Mike Tyson, the American came out absolutely primed and steamrollered the first set after a couple of tight early games.
Buoyed by her record of having beaten Sharapova eighteen consecutive times she unleashed her returns, even though the Russian‘s serve – often a weakness – was functioning perfectly well.
There was none of the drama that accompanied her last appearance on the Arthur Ashe Stadium, when she came close to being defaulted in the 2018 final against Naomi Osaka. There was no way her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, would be giving hand signals this time Neither player has been able to participate a great deal in the tour this season, but Sharapova was bound to be hurt by only having 11 matches under her belt, as opposed to Williams’s 24.
Williams reeled off seven straight games before Sharapova got on the board again to trail 2-1 in the second and had a hint of hope when she created two break points, the second of which was saved by a blinding backhand pass. It proved temporary respite as Sharapova, who was playing at a level that would be too much for many players, was broken again. In the end she won only 12 points in the first set and 16 in the second in what became a no-contest.
Sharapova, now ranked 87, continues to be a shadow of the player she once was before being banned for taking Meldonium, while Williams must assume the status of clear tournament favourite after this pulsating display.A measure of Sharapova’s woe is that she lost every point in the match when she did not land her second serve in.
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