Maria Sharapova’s contentious and captivating US Open run came to an end on Sunday when Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova beat her 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the Flushing Meadows quarter-finals.
Playing her first Grand Slam since returning from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova grabbed the spotlight with an opening-round upset of second seed Simona Halep and commanded centre stage right until the end, walking off Arthur Ashe Stadium court with a demure wave to the capacity crowd.
”It’s been a really great ride in the last week,“ said Sharapova.
”Obviously coming off a loss it’s a quick turnaround in order to reflect all the positives that happened in the last eight or nine days."
”But ultimately I can take a lot from this week. It’s great to get that major out of the way."
”I‘m very thankful for the opportunity. I did my best."
“I can be proud of that.”
After being denied direct entry into the French Open and then forced to pull out of Wimbledon qualifying due to injury, Sharapova was granted a wildcard for the US Open, adding fuel to the debate about rewarding players returning from doping bans.
The debate escalated when all the Russian’s matches were scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium’s centre court.
The former world number one, however, refused to be distracted from focusing on the job at hand but could not find a route past the 16th-seeded Sevastova.
The match offered up an intriguing contrast of styles, the crafty Latvian against Sharapova’s brute power and attacking instincts.
Sharapova had not produced extended stretches of brilliant tennis but her reputation as one of tennis’s great battlers remained a constant.
”I think there are a lot of positives, playing four matches, playing in front of a big crowd and fans,“ said Sharapova.
”Just competing, you know, being in that competitive environment. That’s what I missed."
”You can’t replicate that anywhere, especially at a Grand Slam."
“I think the competitiveness and the desire and the love for what I have, I mean, I think there are a lot of things that can be taught in tennis, but maybe those things just have to come from within.”
There were few break chances in the opening set but Sharapova was able to convert the two presented to her to take a one-set lead, clinching it with a thundering ace that a flat-footed Sevastova could only watch.
It was the first set surrendered by Sevastova but the feisty 27-year-old was unfazed, hitting back with an early break in the second and fighting off three break chances from Sharapova to level the contest.
Sevastova was gifted a break to open the third when Sharapova double-faulted and the rattled Russian was broken again as the Latvian charged to 3-0 lead.
Sharapova, ever the fighter, broke back and held to cut the deficit to 3-2, putting the pressure back on her opponent.
Sevastova blunted the Russian’s fightback with a hold for 4-2 followed by another big break and then served out the contest.
”She’s got the variety. She’ll make you hit a lot of balls,“ explained Sharapova.
”She likes to play with confidence."
“She wins a few of those rallies, and all of a sudden the momentum changes.”
Carreno Busta dispatches newcomer Shapovalov
Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta put an end to 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov's quixotic run at the US Open with a 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 7-6(3) win on Sunday to punch his ticket to the quarter-finals.
Playing under a closed roof on a rainy day at Flushing Meadows, the 12th-seeded Carreno Busta showed more poise than the youngster during the match's pivotal three tiebreakers.
"In the tiebreaks I played perfect. I played very aggressive," Carreno Busta told reporters.
"It was very tough, because three hours, three sets, three tiebreaks. But, of course, it was an amazing victory for me."
Shapovalov praised Carreno Busta's ability to stay focused during the 26-year-old's first-ever singles match at the always buzzing Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"He stayed very tough mentally in the big points," Shapovalov said.
"He just played three tiebreaks that were better than mine."
Shapovalov failed to capitalize on his opportunities during the closely fought match, converting just three of 13 break points while double faulting four times, including a momentum-killing one to start the final tiebreaker.
Carreno Busta was also the better player during the match's long rallies, winning 17 of the 25 rallies of nine shots or more, often with help from one of Shapovalov's 31 unforced errors.
Carreno Busta, who will play in his second quarter-final of the year at a major, will next face either 29th-seeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman or 16th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France.
Kvitova downs Muguruza to reach quarter-finals
Petra Kvitova signalled her return to top form eight months after sustaining a career-threatening hand injury with an impressive 7-6(3), 6-3 win over pre-tournament favourite Garbine Muguruza to reach the US Open quarter-finals.
The Czech was sidelined for five months after being stabbed in her left playing hand by an intruder at her home and although the 13th seed has gradually moved towards her best level, Muguruza was the hot favourite under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I tried to work really hard to play here again. It means a lot, it's an incredible night to play in front of a great crowd," Kvitova said in her on-court interview.
"I don't think I can find the right words, it was a difficult time, all five months (away) were very tough.
"It was a tough journey that I didn't know how would end.
"Everything after what happened is something new and I really appreciate every experience that I have right now in life. Every moment I am living now is something really special."
The Spanish third seed Muguruza had only dropped nine games en route to the fourth round and her poise, pace and power helped her quickly open a 4-1 lead.
Kvitova then staved off a break point and it jump-started her game.
Targeting her opponent's misfiring forehand, Kvitova levelled to 4-4 and had break points at 5-4 and 6-5 before sealing the tiebreak.
The twice Wimbledon champion stayed composed while Muguruza grew increasingly nervous, challenging line calls with no apparent reason as Kvitova moved her left and right with her crafty left hand.
Muguruza seemed back on track in the second set when she broke in the first game but Kvitova grabbed it back and cantered to a 4-1 lead as the Spaniard was given a warning for coaching.
Muguruza hung in by her teeth but she wasted three chances to break back in the ninth game before Kvitova prevailed on her second match point when the Spaniard sent a forehand long.
Venus, Stephens shine in cloudy Labor Day weekend
American women continued to shine on a grey Labor Day weekend as the resurgent Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens fought their way into the quarter-finals of the US Open.
Ninth seed Williams and Stephens qualified with 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 wins against gritty Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro and German Julia Georges, respectively.
They could be joined in the last eight by Jennifer Brady, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys, who are all in fourth round action on Monday.
Both Williams and Stephens are enjoying comeback tales.
Williams made the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals this year, her first grand slam championship matches since 2009, while Stephens is back to form after almost a year out following foot surgery.
“I think that now I‘m running around and sweating, my ponytail is flying, these are all such great things,” said Stephens.
The 24-year-old entered the temporary structure of Louis Armstrong Stadium with a 4-1 career record against 30th seed Georges.
She wasted three set points at 5-3 in the opening set but in the fourth, her opponent hit wide and Stephens seemed in control. But she lost her focus and the German levelled a contest of baseliners.
Georges couldn’t keep up with the pace in the decider, though, and Stephens wrapped it up comfortably.
The same scenario applied on Arthur Ashe Stadium, where Williams, with the backing of the 23,000 crowd, raced through the first set before Suarez Navarro’s sliced backhand started to trouble her.
The Spaniard’s effort to level the match cost her, however, and Williams played with more accuracy in the decider as Suarez Navarro grew frustrated before capitulating.