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Maria Sharapova is ousted, but star power is big loser at US Open

Sharapova's exit was the end of her return to the Grand Slam scene

Harvey Araton | NYT 

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova

It was not a good day for blond players with Russian family roots at the United States Open, or for those attracted to the sizzle of celebrity tennis.

With the roof closed on on a rainy Sunday morning, the tournament first lost the major intrigue from the lower half of a star-depleted men’s draw when Denis Shapovalov, an 18-year-old Canadian and the summer’s breakout newcomer, went out to Pablo Carreño Busta, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3).

After Shapovalov, who had become a quick crowd favorite in three successive matches on Ashe, left to a thunderous ovation, was denied passage to the women’s quarterfinals by Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

Sharapova’s exit was the end of her return to the Grand Slam scene after a 15-month suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. Her first appearance in New York since 2014 was not applauded by many of her peers, some of whom objected to her wild card into the main draw and her preferential court placement, on Ashe.

Sevastova, 27, was not one of them.

“I have great respect for her,” she said, recalling playing in a U-14 tournament on the very day Sharapova, at 17, stunned Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final.

Before Sevastova can concern herself with Sharapova’s fame, she figured she might need to improve her standing in Latvia, where Jelena Ostapenko reigns as the most popular women’s player after winning the French Open in June.

“I’m still C-minus,” she said, laughingly grading herself low on the celebrity meter. “Nothing changed.”

Humility and a smart approach to playing — “just make her work for every ball” — served Sevastova well. Without much match play to prepare her for a two-week, seven-match grind, withered against Sevastova, the 16th seed and a United States Open quarterfinalist last summer.

After broke at 6-5 to take the first set, Sevastova, seven inches shorter than her opponent, began to control play with a variety of shots, mixing in the occasional wicked slice, and keeping the 6-foot-2-inch from getting her legs set to unleash her artillery.

By the time the third set began, was tiring, and it showed when she lost her first two service games, after which she called for a trainer to treat a blister. got one break back to 3-1 but was broken for a third time to 2-5. Sevastova converted her fourth match point when spanked a first serve wide with the backhand.

said the blister was no factor, but did not deny being fatigued.

“I think I allowed the match to become physical,” she said, meaning she was not as aggressive after the first set as she needed to be.

Still, she called the Open “a really great ride,” and her emotional victory over second-seeded Simona Halep last Monday “a special night for me.” Her immediate plans, she said, are more matches, starting in Beijing late this month.

Sevastova ruined what would have been a showcase quarterfinal between and Sloane Stephens, the 24-year-old American who has been fashioning a comeback of her own this summer.

Stephens outlasted Julia Görges of Germany, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Stephens, who was ranked No. 11 in 2013, will have a chance against Sevastova to equal her career-best Grand Slam result, an Australian Open semifinal in 2013, before poor play and injuries sent her spiraling out of the top 100 until this summer.

The tournament will have to move on without and Shapovalov, who surprised and stimulated crowds in Montreal and New York this summer with his athleticism, aggression and flowing blond hair falling beneath a backward baseball cap.

At the Rogers Cup, he beat Juan Martín del Potro and Rafael Nadal in a run to the semifinals. In New York, after winning three matches in the qualifying tournament, he battered eighth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets in the second round.

“There is so much to take in from the whole summer, everything happening so fast, a bit surreal,” said Martin Laurendeau, Shapovalov’s coach. “One minute, he’s playing Challengers, and the next thing you know, he’s beating top players, playing center court, and holding his own against pretty much everybody he’s facing.”

Against Carreño Busta, Shapovalov, who was born in Israel and moved to Toronto with his Russian parents as a toddler, finally ran out of house money — but not before making a developmental down payment on what many believe will be a prosperous future.

Broadcasting the match on ESPN, John McEnroe offered his fellow left-hander a seal of approval when he called “a future Grand Slam champion.”

It was still early in the first set, however, a set would have won had he capitalized on one of three set points or served it out at 5-3.

In Carreño Busta, was up against a sturdy 26-year-old Spaniard, the No. 12 seed, the kind of challenge that Sevastova presented for Carreño Busta made hit extra balls and lured him into defensive positions from which to hit his bold, electric ground strokes.

“Pablo played a very high-level match,” Laurendeau said. “You know, he’s got more to lose than Denis has to lose. It’s been a tough position for all these guys, with the young gun coming after them. You’ve got to handle the pressure, fend them off, and he did that really well.”

also had double break point for 4-0 in the third set but wound up losing that lead and the match.

“He just played three tiebreaks that were better than mine,” said Shapovalov, whose parents, Tessa and Victor, did not attend any of his Open matches.

He said that his mother, who runs a tennis academy in the Toronto area, would have traveled to New York for a quarterfinal.

Now that match will feature Carreño Busta against the No. 29-seeded Diego Schwartzman, a 5-7 overachiever from Argentina. Schwartzman ousted 16th-seeded Lucas Pouille, 7-6 (3), 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal remain on the other side, which will play its fourth round on Monday, the high end of the men’s tournament celebrity seesaw.
©2017 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Mon, September 04 2017. 10:06 IST
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