Maria Sharapova marked her first Grand Slam appearance since her doping ban ended with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over second seed Simona Halep at the US Open on Monday and said she had never been tempted to quit the sport.
The 30-year-old five-time major winner and former world number one was hit by a 15-month suspension after failing a drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open.
The ban ended in April but she missed this year’s French Open and Wimbledon tournaments.
“You try and think it’s another day, another opportunity but it was so much more,” said Sharapova, who fell to her knees in tears after securing a thrilling triumph, her seventh in seven meetings with Halep.
“You never know how you are going to feel until match point but you figure it’s all worth it.”
Sharapova, who needed a wild card to get into the tourmanent she won in 2006 after her world ranking slumped to 146, told her critics that she had no intention of giving up on her career.
“Behind this little black dress and the Swarovski crystals, there is a girl with a lot of grit and she’s not going anywhere.”
That was a reference to the eye-catching all-black and sequined playing gear she was wearing for the occasion.
The crystals were a perfect teaser for the TV cameras for the night session on Arthur Ashe stadium where her record under the lights now stands at 18-0.
“It’s prime time baby!” she said with a smile.
“Sometimes you wonder why you put in all the hard work — this is exactly why.”
Sharapova ended with 60 winners and 64 unforced errors and converting just five of her 22 break opportunities.
“Simona and I have so much respect for each other,” she said.
“It’s always tough. I knew I would have to work for it.” DM