Despite all Simona Halep’s work preparing for the US Open, the second-ranked Romanian could not prevent her worst nightmare from coming true — a first-round loss to Maria Sharapova.
The 146th-ranked Russian wildcard improved to 7-0 lifetime against Halep with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 triumph Monday on the New York hardcourts, marking Halep’s 30th Grand Slam appearance without a title.
“I’m sad, of course, losing this match, but I think I give everything I had,” Halep said. “She was better. She was serving better. My serve was very bad today.”
Halep arrived at the US Open off a humbling 6-1, 6-0 loss to Garbine Muguruza at the Cincinnati final two weeks ago, her third loss in as many months with a chance to take the world number one ranking for the first time in her career.
She also stumbled on the verge of the top spot by losing the French Open final and a Wimbledon semi-final, both after taking the first set.
And then of all the people she could have faced in the US Open draw, Halep was handed a five-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one in her first Grand Slam match since a 15-month doping ban — a motivated foe with a total mastery over her.
“Was very tough. Was not like first-round match. But this is the draw. I cannot say anything else,” Halep said.
“It’s the luck. It was a tough one for first round, for sure. But still I think I played OK. She played really well. It was a good match. It was good for the fans.”
Halep gave herself credit for battling back from 4-1 down in the second set to force a third.
“I just stayed there. I didn’t think that I had lost the match. I just kept fighting,” Halep said.
“I started to play a little bit more relaxed after that score. Then I got the confidence back. I didn’t lose the confidence during the match because I felt I was very close, also in the first set.”
What Halep said she didn’t feel was any serve timing.
“Maybe because was night. I didn’t practice night. But these are excuses. I just had to try something else, but I didn’t.
“She was very strong today. She hit everything. Some balls were really good and I couldn’t even touch them.”
Halep said she never saw Sharapova’s tears of joy after the match, her own sorrow too great to focus upon much else.
“I didn’t see that moment because I was pretty sad that I lost the match,” Halep said. “I think it’s a big victory for her. She was staying away so many months. She’s coming now. She played really well. So maybe that’s why.”
‘I GAVE EVERYTHING I HAD’
Halep connected on 67 percent of her first serves, but not enough of them were effective enough to frustrate Sharapova.
“The percentage maybe was good, but was too slow. She could attack the return very easy,” Halep said. “So that’s why I think I lost so many serve games.
That’s maybe why I lose the match. I’m pretty sure about that.
“I gave everything I had. Today she was stronger. I have just to go and work harder.”
One thing Halep doesn’t consider herself is unlucky, even with an opener against Sharapova.
“I’m very lucky person that I have this life, the chance to play in the top for so many years,” Halep said. “I’m not thinking that I’m unlucky person. I’m very lucky.”
And she has her plans sorted for the next couple weeks — “Racquets away, holiday, then work again.”
Fittingly, Sharapova played in a black dress, just as she had done in 2006.