Maria Sharapova keeps validating her wild card. Fridayt night she won her third-round match at the U.S. Open, 7-5, 6-2, over Sofia Kenin at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
After completing a 15-month doping ban in April, Sharapova was limited to four tournaments and nine matches before the U.S. Open. The Open gave her a wild card as her ranking had fallen so much that she didn’t receive an automatic entry.
Kenin, 18, was also a wild-card entry and was playing in only the fourth main draw event of her career. At least 9-10 inches shorter than the 6-2 Sharapova, the diminutive American (born in Moscow, moved to the United States as an infant) showed up with some quick feet and solid ground strokes. But Sharapova broke her serve three times, giving her the opening set.
A quick break of Kenin in the second game of the second set seemed to send Sharapova on her way, then Kenin got it back. Sharapova was getting in no more than 50 percent of her first serves, but a few aces helped soothe the inconsistencies.
A potential quarterfinal match up for Sharapova is Sloane Stephens, on her own comeback. Stephens beat Ashleigh Barty to reach the fourth round, which is as far as she’s ever gotten in the Open in five previous tries.
That does not include last year, when she was sitting out with a left foot injury suffered at the Rio Olympics that ultimately required surgery. She didn’t make it back to the tour until this past Wimbledon, nearly 11 months out of competition.
Friday’s 6-2, 6-4 win at Armstrong Stadium is another exclamation point in what has been a surprisingly effective summer, in which she reached two semifinals.
The level of tennis wasn’t high Friday, but sometimes it’s about playing just good enough to win. And now, it feels more like Stephens is back rather than coming back.
“After like the first week, I was, like, I don’t know if this is a comeback,” she said. “I played five matches in a row, then the next week played another four matches or something, then here. So I don’t know if it’s really a comeback any more. I’ll go with it if I sounds better.”