STANFORD, CA, USA - Former WTA World No.1 Maria Sharapova made a successful comeback from injury at the Bank of the West Classic, outlasting American Jennifer Brady, 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 to reach the second round in Stanford.
"I feel like I just want to hug everyone and say thank you," Sharapova told Andrew Krasny during her on-court interview. "It's my first match in the States in a really long time and it's the closest thing to home for me. The welcome has been incredible and finally playing so close to home was really special."
The Russian was made to fight through several long games in all three sets. The turning point came early in the third as she saved a pair of break points to consolidate her lead and run away with the match after two hours and two minutes on court.
"I feel like I face a lot of things: not competing for a long time, an opponent who's able to play some great tennis - what a year she's had already! I feel like I'm playing catch-up against everyone who's had a head start. All that matters is that I keep playing. As long as I'm the one winning the last point, I get to play another match, and another. The more I play, the better I'll do. That's the goal."
Sharapova last played a hardcourt tournament in North America over two years ago at the 2015 Miami Open, accepting a wildcard into the first tournament of the US Open Series after a thigh injury derailed her clay and grass court seasons.
Across the net on Monday night was Brady, a solid hardcourter who kicked off the 2017 season with a career-best result at the major tournaments, reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open and pushing eventual quarterfinalist Kristina Mladenovic to three sets at the French.
The first set scoreline proves deceptive as all but two games went to deuce. Sharapova saved three break points in the sixth game to move ahead 5-1 and take the set shortly after.
Brady bounced back in style to start the second, racing through the first three games and weathering a Sharapova surge to break serve for a fourth time in the match to ultimately edge into a third.
"Those were some really nice words about the second set," Sharapova said, joking about her slow start. "I might have put it a little differently. I had a bit of a letdown but that's the way it is; you finish a set and think you've got it, but she came out firing, capable of hitting winners and big serves. I had to look out for that."
The five-time Grand Slam champion took more risks to start the third and that aggression paid off, racing out to a 5-0 lead and treating the crowd to one last tense game before booking a second-round encounter with No.7 seed Lesia Tsurenko.