NEW YORK, NY, USA -- Maria Sharapova's Grand Slam comeback at the 2017 US Open continued in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, when the 2006 US Open champion surged from a one-set deficit to eliminate Hungarian Timea Babos, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-1.
Sharapova, playing as a wild card, was coming off of an electric two-and-a-half-hour first-round barnburner against No.2 seed Simona Halep on Monday night. She survived another lengthy battle against Babos, who matched the Russian power for power throughout a two-hour and 19-minute tilt.
"I definitely wanted to enjoy the quality of tennis that I played with the other night, but I also wanted to put my mind onto this one," said Sharapova in her post-match press conference. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy, no matter who I was going to play today. It's always difficult after a match like that. My goal was just to get it done."
Sharapova, making her first appearance at the US Open since 2014, staged multiple comebacks from a break down in the first set, but unforced errors failed her at the most tense moments of the tiebreak. However, she stayed close and found opportunities to gain and hold leads in the final two sets.
The first meeting between the two players ended up being a disheartening loss for Babos, who earlier prevailed in the second-longest match of the tournament, a 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 first-round win over Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.
Babos has struggled since she won her second career title on home soil in February at the Hungarian Ladies Open in Budapest. The World No.59 endured a nine-match losing streak from April through July, and went 2-3 in the summer hardcourt season prior to her first-round win here.
It was Babos who started the match off with a bang, though, testing Sharapova’s movement by bringing her into the net, and being rewarded with a break of serve in the very first game of the match. Sharapova then started to find her range on her returns, tying the match at 2-2.
Babos broke again for 3-2 with a fantastic crosscourt forehand at the end of a protracted rally, grasping another break lead. She was unbothered on her serve until 5-4, when, serving for the match, her forehand broke down, to tie the set at 5-5.
Both players then shakily dropped serve to send the set into a tiebreak -- the first tiebreak Sharapova has contested since the Australian Open in 2016.
Her recent inexperience showed, as a double fault gave Babos a 4-1 lead. Babos would not surrender her advantage, taking the tiebreak 7-4 due to consecutive forehand errors from the Russian.
But from there, Sharapova's unforced errors -- 19 in the first set -- diminished, and she only hit 17 more in the match. Simultaneously, her winner count picked up, and cracks started to appear in the confidence of Babos, who was hoping to match her third-round appearance from last year.
Three unforced errors in the first game of the second set gave Sharapova an immediate 2-0 lead. Though she double faulted down break point at 2-2 to give up that advantage, Sharapova was able to break again for 4-3 after Babos hit a backhand error on the third break point against her in the game.
A hold at love, punctuated by two of Sharapova's 12 aces in the match, closed out the second set, 6-4. Babos could only put up two winners in the set, to Sharapova's 17, and the momentum was firmly with the Russian going into the final frame.
"I think that's something that gave me confidence in the second, was towards the end of the second set, I felt like I was the fresher player," Sharapova told the press after the match. "Going into a third set, that's a good position or a good feeling to have."
The third set was one-way traffic, as Sharapova was serving brilliantly and hitting effective forehands with ease. Babos was again broken in the opening game, and then failed to hold for 4-2 when Sharapova hit a bruising return on game point, followed by a poor drop shot by Babos when down break point.
From that juncture, Sharapova won eight of the final 11 points to close out the match. A positive differential between her 39 winners and her 36 unforced errors bodes well for her chances going forward, despite being put through the wringer in two grueling opening rounds.
In her third-round match, Sharapova will take on the American wild card Sofia Kenin, who got through her own three-set tussle against compatriot Sachia Vickery, who had come through the qualifying. Kenin won, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(0), in a staggering two hours and 40 minutes.