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U.S. Open: No. 2 Simona Halep draws Maria Sharapova in first round

Maria Sharapova gets an early practice session in at

Maria Sharapova gets an early practice session in at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. Credit: Errol Anderson

Simona Halep, the No. 2 ranked women’s player in the world, didn’t exactly receive an ideal draw to start the U.S Open as she prepares to face former No. 1 Maria Sharapova.

“My reaction was normal, because this year I had very tough draws every time almost,” said Halep, who was on the court practicing when she learned of her first-round matchup. “Of course was a little bit, like, ‘How is possible again?’ Just first round of a Grand Slam.”

Sharapova, who served a 15-month ban starting in January of 2016 for testing positive for the newly prohibited drug meldonium at the Australian Open, returned to competitive tennis in April but is ranked 147. She received a wild card into the U.S Open and will face Halep in Monday’s night session. Sharapova has defeated the 25-year old in six previous matches.

“Facing her, I’m, like, it’s going to be a big challenge, first round of Grand Slam. She beat me six times,” Halep said. “So maybe I will change this. We will see Monday . . . It’s a big, big match.”

Halep and Sharapova haven’t faced each other since 2015, and three of their last four matches went to the third set.

“I was so close many times,” Halep said. “Maybe in the most important moments during the matches against her I couldn’t step in and just take the opportunity.”

Sharapova, 30, is 6-4 this year since returning from the suspension and last played in the U.S. Open in 2014, losing in the round of 16. Sharapova won the 2006 Open.

Defending women’s champion returns

After winning two Grand Slam championships last year, including defeating Karolina Pliskova in last year’s U.S Open, former No. 1 Angelique Kerber hasn’t won a tournament since leaving Arthur Ashe Stadium.

After reaching the top of the rankings last year, Kerber admitted it’s difficult staying at the pinnacle.

“Of course it’s not so easy,” Kerber said. “I mean, you feel then if you are there or you are close there you feel the pressure. You feel the pressure from yourself, as well, because you know you are just really close to be there. So it’s not so easy to get there, but of course if you are there, it’s a feeling what you will never forget and you know you reached it.”

U.S. Open testing shot clock

The U.S Open experimented with a 25-second shot clock during qualifying rounds as a way to speed play. It will not be used in this year’s U.S Open and No. 1 Rafael Nadal is unsure if the change would be beneficial.

“Depends on what the fans want,” Nadal said. “You know, if the fans want short points and players playing without thinking, the matches, only going for the shots, maybe (it’s) good.”

But Nadal referenced championship matches against Novak Djokovic with long rallies and only having 25 seconds to recover from that would be difficult.

“You cannot expect to play 50 shots’ rally and in 25 seconds be ready to play the next tennis point,” he said. “I think that’s not possible for a great show. But if you don’t want a great show, of course it’s a great improvement.”


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