Maria Sharapova’s big-game comeback from a 15-month drug suspension ended on her knees in tears … of joy.
Sure, it was just a first-round match and not a final, but to know how much her suspension hurt — and grasp how much her comeback meant — one just had to watch the always-composed Sharapova cover her face as she wept openly and repeatedly, overcome with emotion she’s never shown.
Truthfully, she’s never had a reason like this. It wasn’t just the 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 upset of second-ranked Simona Halep, stirring enough on its own. No, it was everything she had gone through to get here, from the PED suspension to being cast as a cheater to the multiple injuries that stalled this comeback.
“[I learned] behind all these Swarovski crystals and sparkly little black dresses, this girl has a lot of grit and is not going anywhere,” Sharapova, clad in black from her shoes to her visor to her lace-and-sequined Riccardo Tisci-designed dress in-between said.
But don’t think that was a sign she was embracing the role of drug-stained villain. No, she soaked in the applause of the sellout crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium — where she’s 18-0 all time under the lights — and cried with every cheer.
“[It meant] so much. So special. … This is obviously a different scale, completely different caliber to anywhere you play in the world. It’s electric,” Sharapova said. “As much as I want to be in the zone, focus in on what I have to do, execution and all those things, I definitely felt the energy. I felt the crowd.”
Sharapova has made a career out of not just power but being mentally stronger than her foes. That fortitude was put to the test after failing a Jan. 26, 2016, drug test at the Australian Open, 2016, testing positive for meldonium. She had taken the drug for a decade on a doctor’s advice, saying she hadn’t known it had been added to the banned list that Jan. 1.
Sharapova got suspended for two years — reduced to 15 months — then had her comeback twice stalled, first by a thigh injury then a left forearm injury earlier this month. She arrived in Flushing with just a single match under her belt since May and ranked 147th.