NEW YORK—The U.S Open started with a storm, and it continued through the first couple of days on the women’s side. French Open champion Li Na lost in the first round. Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova lost in the first round. Marion Bartoli lost in the second round. Venus Williams pulled out.
The one survivor of that shipwreck was Maria Sharapova. She looked like she too was destined to crash out in the first round, to the ever-scrambling Heather Watson, but the Russian fought and grunted her way out of it in three sets. This evening Sharapova played like a woman given new life. She missed a few balls at the start of her match with Anastasiya Yakimova, but she didn’t miss them for long. After the first couple of games, she was dialed in—on her backhand, which she hit up the line for precise, easy winners; on her forehand, which she used to boss Yakimova back and forth along the baseline, and on her serve, which she bent confidently out wide in the deuce side, and even followed to net on a couple of occasions (there really are new things under the sun; or at least under the lights of Ashe Stadium). It seemed that Yakimova could do nothing other than race to the corners and send up feeble, desperation floaters for Sharapova to punish. By the second set, Maria led 21-1 in winners.
Along with Serena Williams’s similarly imposing performances last night, Sharapova’s win sets a more orderly tone to the women’s Open. We’ll see, but perhaps the storm has passed, and the survivors will get stronger. As far as her own game, this may have been the best I’ve seen Sharapova play all year. The competition wasn’t the stiffest, but while she has been winning for the last few months, it has rarely come easy—her wonky serve won’t let it be. Tonight, from serve to return to forehand to backhand, and even to a sharp forehand volley or two, it was easy.