NEW YORK, NY, USA – Maria Sharapova wrapped up the first day of play at the US Open on Monday night, finding her range after falling behind 4-2 in the first set and reeling off 10 games in a row to make it past good friend and fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko in exactly an hour and a half, 6-4, 6-0.
The No.5-seeded Sharapova looked shaky early on, just a little off on the timing of her groundstrokes and throwing in a handful of double faults as well as Kirilenko built the aforementioned 4-2 lead. But she found her range just in time to sneak the first set out and found her very best again in the second set, hitting a total of just three unforced errors in that set to cruise through to the second round.
Sharapova, who won here in 2006, is now 17-0 in her career in night matches at the US Open.
“I’m not really sure,” Sharapova said of the stat. “This is usually the time I’m sleeping, so I don’t know. You’d actually think it was the opposite. In the beginning of my career it was always a bit more challenging because I didn’t really know how to adjust to what I should do during the day, but I’ve certainly learned a lot. I know the waiting game a bit better than when I was a junior or a teenager.
“Now I really enjoy it. You feel the goosebumps when you go out on a night match on Arthur Ashe.”
All the other top seeds in action also won, with No.2 seed Simona Halep recovering after a scratchy first set to beat American wildcard Danielle Rose Collins, 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-2, No.4
Halep, who has a shot at becoming World No.1 after this tournament, looked far from a World No.2 in the first set, but once that was out of the way she went right to work and cruised to victory.
“The first round of a tournament is really difficult,” Halep said. “It was a big challenge for me today because I played the first match of the tournament on center court. It’s not easy to manage the situation. But I think after the first set I did very well and played much better than the first set.
“I started a little bit nervous, but it’s normal. And she was playing really well, as well.”
Also among the winners was No.19 seed Venus Williams, who struggled in the first set – she had 19 unforced errors to just seven winners – but regrouped to beat Kimiko Date-Krumm, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Williams and Date-Krumm weren’t just battling each other, they were trying to fend off a bee attack.
“Kimiko has so much class she didn’t swat it,” Williams said. “So once it was my turn, I think I would have been remiss to swat it myself. Kind of came up with a strategy to hopefully follow her example in that. Just let the fly land on the racquet and in the towel – and I guess he’s on his way now.”
Monday was also the birthday of the late Althea Gibson, a tennis pioneer who broke down color barriers in the sport in the 1950s by becoming the first African-American to a Grand Slam title.
Williams was asked about her in her presser. “What she accomplished is something no one else did – to be not only the best player in the world during a time where she had no support, and in a time when it was hard to feel good about yourself because who you were was something that was considered inferior. So that was very difficult. I can’t imagine how she felt. She did it with class and she did it with grace. I’m very fortunate not to have had to play under those circumstances. I have had an opportunity to play well and be myself, and because of her, I’m really proud of who I am.
“Really, what she has done, you know, goes beyond words.”
The only upset on Day 1 saw Croatian qualifier Mirjana Lucic-Baroni beat No.25 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-3, 7-6(4). Lucic-Baroni is no stranger to Grand Slam success – she made a fairytale run to the semifinals of Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 1999, falling to Steffi Graf in three tight sets.