Two nights after her emotional return to Grand Slam action at the U.S. Open, 2006 champion Maria Sharapova was forced to dig deep to outlast big-serving Hungarian Timea Babos, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-1, in a two-hour, 19-minute battle that saw her get better as the match progressed.
Babos Steals Titanic Opening Set
After her grueling first-round victory over world number two Simona Halep on Monday night, Sharapova appeared to be feeling the effects of that win early on as it was Babos who came exploding out of the gates, giving all aspects of Sharapova’s game a thorough examination as she jumped out to an early 2-0 lead.
Sharapova, however, would hit back immediately to draw level at 2-all, but it was Babos who seemed to be able to produce some magic at just the right time to take the lead once more—a fantastic crosscourt forehand giving her the break, which she would immediately consolidate to extend herself to a 4-2 lead.
The Hungarian was relatively unbothered on her own serve until 5-4 when Sharapova made a late charge, breaking down the Babos forehand to break at the perfect time. Despite both having two excellent serves, both women struggled to find their footing in their respective service games from there, meaning the set would have to be decided in a tiebreak—Sharapova’s first since the 2016 Australian Open.
Given the Russian’s subpar track record in tiebreaks in the years leading up to her suspension, it was Babos who would take control of the tiebreak and never really look back, clinching it 7-4 due to consecutive forehand errors from the former world number one.
Sharapova Hits Back; Forces a Decider
After a disappointing end to the opening set, Sharapova wasted no time in stamping her authority on the second, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead of her own in rather impressive fashion. However, it was Babos who was able to scrap her way back into the set; her slices, particularly down the middle of the court, wreaking havoc for Sharapova, who found herself surrender the advantage almost immediately with a double fault to draw level at 2-all.
Despite being far from her best and noticeably hesitant at times to move forward, Sharapova continued to keep plugging away from the back of the court at the tenacious Babos, who continued to make the Russian hit one extra ball, and soon enough, it all began to come together for the former champion. After toughing out a crucial hold to restore parity at three-games-apiece, the five-time Grand Slam champion broke the Babos serve for the fifth time in the match, which would later prove decisive.
Looking relatively unbothered on her own serve, Sharapova closed the set out at love a short time after to force a decider, winning it by six games to four.
Sharapova Survives: 2006 Champion Completes Spirited Comeback
After two tightly contested opening sets, the third set did not follow the same script as it was all one-way traffic for Sharapova, who jumped out to an early break and never really looking back from there. Looking more like her old self, the Russian began to serve better and was finally beginning to hit her spots with her forehand, leaving Babos at a loss for answers.
After saving a game point at 3-1 with a brilliant backhand return, Sharapova would take advantage of a poor drop shot from the Hungarian to break once more before winning eight of the last 11 points to complete the comeback in just shy of 20 minutes past the two-hour mark.
Stats Corner: Sharapova Powers Past Pesky Babos
Despite being far from her best, Sharapova was able to end the match with a positive differential between her 39 winners and 36 unforced errors compared to Babos who ended with 13 and 24, respectively. The Russian was also able to serve better as the match progressed, ending the match with 78 percent of the points won behind her first serve, having won more than 80 percent of them in the last two years.
Next Up for Sharapova: Kenin
For a place in the second week, Sharapova will face off against 18-year-old American wildcard Sofia Kenin, who survived her own three-set tussle against compatriot Sachia Vickery to punch her ticket to the third round.