By Ann Liguori
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NEW YORK (WFAN) — Never mind that five of the top 11 seeds and three of the past five champions in the men’s draw are not playing in this year’s US Open due to injuries.
And that Serena Williams, the biggest star in American tennis and a winner of six US Open singles titles, is about to give birth.
The highly anticipated Maria Sharapova-Simona Halep match quickly erased any negativity that the pre-Open withdrawals may have caused. In a totally electrifying match, Sharapova prevailed over second-seeded Halep, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, on Monday night in a battle that lasted 2 hours and 44 minutes.
Sharapova is playing in only her fifth event since April, when she returned from a 15-month suspension for taking a medication on the banned substance list.
And what an impressive return to the biggest of stages it was. Sharapova moved well, served strong and smacked dazzling winners.
In the second, Sharapova jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but Halep won the next five games to force the deciding set. In the third, Sharapova again grabbed a 4-1 lead, but Halep made her work for every point before the 2006 champion finally slammed the door. It was an emotional win for the 30-year-old Russian, who is playing at the US Open for the first time since 2014.
Monday night’s scintillating match pretty much made most fans forget, at least temporarily, that two-time men’s champ Novak Djokovic is out with a right elbow injury, that 2012 champ Andy Murray pulled out this past weekend due to a nagging left hip, and that defending champ Stan Wawrinka is not in New York due to knee surgery.
Certainly the fact that Williams isn’t here greatly impacts the star power of the women’s draw. Her older sister, Venus, the oldest woman in the field at 37, improved to 19-0 in her first-round matches at the US Open by disposing of 19-year-old qualifier Viktoria Kuzmova, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
But there’s no denying that the quality of the Sharapova-Halep match, which was the caliber of a women’s final, got this tournament off to an excellent start.
Add to that the fact that mega-star and five-time US Open champion Roger Federer, who is playing amazing tennis, as evidenced by his Australian Open and Wimbledon wins, could meet two-time Open winner Rafael Nadal in the semifinals and there’s no reason to not be optimistic about what will unfold over the next two weeks.
It is unfortunate, however, that third-seeded Federer and top-seeded Nadal are both in the top half of the draw instead of having the potential to meet in the final. The fact that these two legends have never met in a match at the US Open is surprising. Let’s hope that they both play true to form and avoid falling victim to giant-killers like seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, and 14th-seeded Nick Kyrgios, plus No. 6 Dominic Thiem, and former Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro, who all lurk in the top half.
Nadal will open his quest to win his 16th major championship when he faces Dusan Lajovic of Serbia on Tuesday afternoon and Federer will begin his journey to win his 20th a few hours later against American Frances Tiafoe.
Plus, no matter what happens going forward, the USTA knows how to throw a party. It kicked things off in style on Monday evening with a performance by country pop star Shania Twain. Mike Tyson, Greg Norman, Jimmy Buffett, Rosie Perez and Pharrell were a few of the celebrities in the house.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori