Having returned earlier this year from a 15-month suspension for a drugs offence, Sharapova will be making her first appearance in a Grand Slam tournament since last year’s Australian Open
Simona Halep was hardly surprised when she was drawn against Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open, which begins here on Monday.
“I’ve had very tough draws almost every time,” Halep said when asked what her reaction had been to news of the draw. “Of course I was a little bit like: ‘How is it possible again? It’s just the first round of a Grand Slam.’ But I felt OK.”
Having returned earlier this year from a 15-month suspension for a drugs offence, Sharapova will be making her first appearance in a Grand Slam tournament since last year’s Australian Open. She has been troubled by injuries following her return and is currently ranked No 147 in the world, which meant she could not go directly into the main draw here without a wild card.
Halep was among a number of players who criticised the tournament director in Stuttgart for giving the Russian a wild card in her first comeback tournament in April, saying that it did not set a good example to young people to reward a player who had been banned for a drugs offence.
Here, however, the 25-year-old Romanian refused to be drawn into any controversy about her opponent’s wild card. “The tournament decided and they can do anything they want,” she said. “It’s not my position to talk about this. She’s coming back. She’s strong enough to come back, in my opinion. She has a lot of experience and has also won many tournaments, so I think she’s OK.”
Sharapova has won all six of her previous meetings with Halep, though they have not played each other since the end of 2015. Their biggest match was in the 2014 French Open final, which Sharapova won in three sets.
Halep said: “Facing her, I’m like: ‘It’s going to be a big challenge, first round of Grand Slam. She beat me six times.’ So maybe I will change this. We will see on Monday. I just want to do my best, to try to win the match and of course to enjoy it. It’s a big, big match.”
Asked what it was about Sharapova’s game that troubled her, Halep said: “I was so close many times. Maybe it’s just a little bit difficult because she’s playing flat, she’s playing risky, and maybe in the most important moments during the matches against her I couldn’t step in and just take the opportunity.”
However, Halep said she felt she was a very different player to 2014. “I am different in all the ways,” she said. “I feel stronger mentally and in my game. I have more experience. I faced many situations in these three years. I feel better and I feel that I’m ready to face her again.”
Halep is one of eight women who could finish this tournament as world No 1. Already world No 2, she has been within one victory of taking over the top spot on three occasions this summer but lost each time.
Halep said she would not be thinking about the world No 1 position any more. “I thought about it too much,” she said. “Maybe the pressure came in important moments, so now it’s gone. Everyone can take the No 1, and if it’s going to happen, I will deserve it. If not, no, then we will see.”
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