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Maria Sharapova served her time and deserves to be in New York

She is branded and nothing Maria Sharapova does on the tennis court for the rest of her career will erase the scarlet letter “M” (for Meldonium, not Maria) that she wears on her custom-designed outfits.

But you know what? Sharapova is over it. She chooses not to live in the past, relive the circumstances that led to the 15-month suspension she served for infamously failing that drug test at the 2016 Australian Open that has put an indelible stain on her career, or fret about what others might think about whether she should be here in Queens.

She has borne the slings and arrows and has survived them.

In style.

“Absolutely,” Sharapova said after backing up Monday’s dramatic three-set upset of second-seed Simona Halep with an uphill 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1 victory over Timea Babos at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday afternoon to advance to the third round of the U.S. Open. “With the way I played Monday night, I don’t think there are any more questions.

“I definitely feel the respect from the athletes. Certainly when I play against them, in terms of the level they play with. That’s important to me.”

Some men, and, more to the point, some women choose not to forgive or forget. Eugenie Bouchard, beaten in her first-rounder by Evgeniya Rodina, has been unsparing in her assessment of, in her word, the “cheater.”

American CoCo Vandeweghe, the 20th seed who advanced with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 first-round victory over fellow Yank Alison Riske, said that she disagreed with the USTA’s decision to grant Sharapova a wild-card entry into the main draw because she believes it should have gone to an American.

Fair enough. These women are entitled to their opinions.

My take? I vote for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds when filling out my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, so that should serve as enough of a short-hand explanation of my thoughts on a complex situation.

This tournament does indeed crown the U.S. champion, but it is also a tournament for the fans, who turn out in staggering numbers on an annual basis and all but overran the grounds this day on which 87 singles matches were held in a makeup for Tuesday’s rained out grounds session.

And the marquee headline act that is Sharapova most certainly belongs here, just as she belongs at every Grand Slam tournament.

She pleaded guilty to her crime and she has done her time.

But even as Sharapova competes here, she remains the poster woman for Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program. For the 30-year-old Russian — who declined to reveal how often she has been drug-tested since returning — not only lost time, she lost her ranking. Thus, she competes in draws such as this one where she confronts the No. 2 seed right out of the hopper.

The loss of a ranking and entries via wild card are weights she carries for which there are no comparisons in other sports. When Alex Rodriguez, for instance, returned in 2015 from his one-year suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis affair, No. 13 did not begin each at-bat with two strikes against him.

Sharapova was steely throughout this one, ultimately taking control midway through the second set by saving two break points in the sixth game to hold for 3-all before breaking Babos in the next game to begin a string in which the victor won 10 of the final 12 games and dropped just three points on her final four service games.

“I prefer to play with instinct but it’s still going to take a little more time,” said Sharapova, who will face 18-year-old American wild-card entrant Sofia Kenin next in what will be only her 13th match of the year. “I have expectations because I’ve been on these stages before and it’s a comfort to know that I did it before so I can do it again. But I’m also realistic.”

She struck the ball more sharply and covered the court more crisply in the third set. Fewer than 48 hours removed from her 2-hour 42-minute marathon victory under Monday night’s bright lights, she outlasted her 29-year-old Hungarian opponent following a first set that lasted 59 minutes and two sets that went 1:51. The third set took just 26 minutes.

Sharapova was decisive, playing with rhythm while cracking winners from both sides of the court after appearing tentative into the mid stages of the second set. She choreographed points. Her serve was a force.

“I gained confidence toward the end of the second set,” she said. “Going into the third, that was a good feeling to have.”

And as her confidence translated into dominance, one could almost forget that Sharapova had been away.

Almost.

Source: http://nypost.com/2017/08/31/maria-sharapova-served-her-time-and-deserves-to-be-in-new-york/

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