WHAT HAPPENED: Maria Sharapova's return to the US Open came to an end at the hands of No. 16 seed Anastasija Sevastova 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, putting the Latvian into the quarterfinals here for the second consecutive year.
Despite Sharapova taking the driver's seat to start the match, Sevastova's crafty game left the former No. 1 puzzled as the match wore on, using heavy-spin drop shots to great effect during their two-hour, 16-minute contest. And it certainly did not help that Sharapova could not find her range or rhythm as she had done in her three previous matches. By the time the last ball was struck, the Russian hit 51 unforced errors while Sevastova played a near flawless match with only 14.
"The first set was very close, it could have gone either way," Sevastova said in her on-court interview. "She played unbelieveable, but I kept fighting, running down every ball and I stayed there with her. Of course, emotions are very high in the end, and it's diffficult to close at 5-2."
Sharapova raced ahead 4-1 to begin the match, successfully executing a versatile game that included a left-handed on-the-run dig that eventually won her the point in the third game. But the No. 16 seed played a patient game that got her back on serve at 3-4. On double break point up 6-5, Sharapova blasted a forehand winner that closed the first set.
The 27-year-old Latvian was the first to take the lead in the second at 2-1 and held onto it for the better half of the set. In the seventh game, Sharapova again brought out the left-handed lob — twice in one point, in fact — and won the game when Sevastova's drop shot return attempt fell short. But the Russian's overall drop in first serve percentage (48 percent) and crippling string of errors (16 compared to Sevastova's two) cost her the second set.
Sevastova vs. Sharapova
Sharapova's six-minute bathroom break between sets didn't seem to do much good for the Russian, as she returned to court and double-faulted to lose the opening game. By then, the career Grand Slam champion's game was breaking down in a hurry. Though Sevastova conceded a break at 3-1, she held strong to weather the turbulence, reeling off three of the last four games to hold off the Russian fan favorite and advance one step further in the women's bracket.
WHAT IT MEANS: Sharapova's first major tournament in more than two years marked her 50th appearance in a Grand Slam main draw. She has not been past the fourth round in New York since her 2012 run to the semifinals.
Sevastova's year includes a title at Mallorca, a semifinal in Madrid, and two quarterfinal finishes in Stuttgart and Rome. She now secures a quarterfinal meeting with an in-form Sloane Stephens, who played clutch tennis to advance past No. 30 Julia Goerges.
MATCH POINT: Sunday's contest marked the only time Sevastova has dropped a set this tournament. Can she hold her form and get past Stephens during the US Open's second week?