Maria Sharapova put on the sleeves and took off the gloves today.
Down a set and 2-3, Sharapova responded winning 10 of the last 12 games powering past Timea Babos, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1, into the US Open third round for the first time in three years.
Two days after Sharapova went the distance toppling second-ranked Simona Halep, she was not quite as sharp against the bigger-serving Babos, but showed stamina and sting on her serve.
Wearing black sleeves, Sharapova smacked nine of her 12 aces during the final two sets winning back-to-back three setters for the first time since the 2015 Madrid when she outlasted Caroline Garcia and Caroline Wozniacki in succession.
“I still think I need a little bit more time, a little bit more matches,” Sharapova said. “I mean, I’m definitely a player that likes and prefers to play with instinct. I like the moments where you have to figure it out on yourself. Obviously you go into a match with a little bit of a plan on how you’re going to play and execute. But there are times in a match where you just have to, as you say, play with instinct.”
The 30-year-old Russian wild card, who served a 15-month doping suspension, said she’s regaining confidence but trying to keep things in perspective.
“I certainly have expectations just because I know I’ve been in these stages before and I’ve been able to execute,” Sharapova said. “There’s a certain level of I know I can do this, I’ve done it before. I want to have that feeling again.
“But there’s also the realistic understanding of, Okay, you haven’t been in this situation for a while. It’s going to take a little time. Of course, managing expectations is part of it, learning as you play the matches, which is something I haven’t done for a long time.”
The victory sends Sharapova into a third-round clash with 19-year-old Pembroke Pines, Florida resident Sofia Kenin with plenty of room for upward mobility in the bottom quarter of the draw.
“I’ve always considered the draws to be fairly similar, no matter where you end up,” Sharapova said. “If you’re not ready to beat your opponent in the first round or the second round, then I’m not sure if you’re going to be ready towards the end of the tournament. That’s how I see things.
“I don’t mind looking at the matchups, who is going to be playing the beginning of the event. That’s all right.”
Asked how many times she’s been drug tested since returning to the pro circuit, Sharapova replied “I think the ITF can give you a number.”