Former No. 1 tennis player Maria Sharapova advances in U.S. Open

Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a return to No. 2 seed Simona Halep during the opening round of the U.S. Open in New York on Monday. (AP photo)

NEW YORK — No one, not even Maria Sharapova herself, knew quite what to expect from her return to Grand Slam tennis at the U.S. Open.

It had been 19 months since she had entered a major tournament. She played only nine times anywhere since a 15-month doping suspension ended in April. Two three-set tussles into her stay at Flushing Meadows, it’s clear that Sharapova’s game might be patchy, but she is as capable as ever of coming up with big strokes in big moments — and maybe, just maybe, could stick around for a while in a depleted draw that’s already missing four of the top seven seeded women.

Sharapova became the first woman into the third round at the U.S. Open by using 12 aces to help set aside a poor start and coming back to beat Timea Babos of Hungary 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1 on Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“Look, I certainly have expectations, just because I know I’ve been in these stages before and I’ve been able to execute. There’s a certain level of ‘I know I can do this. I’ve done it before. I want to have that feeling again,'” Sharapova said. “But there’s also the realistic understanding of, ‘OK, you haven’t been in this situation for a while. It’s going to take a little time.’ Of course, managing expectations is part of it, learning as you play the matches, which is something I haven’t done for a long time.”

Her victory was the highlight of a busy day that featured 87 singles matches on the schedule after rain washed out most play a day earlier. With so many matches going on, there were plenty of names to keep tabs on — and quite a few surprises. The most noteworthy second-round departures came at night: No. 4 Alexander Zverev and No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the men’s bracket, and No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki in the women’s.

Zverev, never past the fourth round at a major, was beaten 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4) by fellow 20-year-old Borna Coric, and 2008 Australian Open finalist Tsonga put up little resistance while losing 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3) to 18-year-old Canadian qualifier Denis Shapovalov. Two-time U.S. Open runner-up Wozniacki’s 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-1 exit against 40th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova followed first-round losses by No. 2 Simona Halep, No. 6 Angelique Kerber and No. 7 Johanna Konta.

“It’s upsetting. Today was upsetting,” Zverev said, perhaps summing up others’ feelings, too. “The way I played was upsetting.”

Past U.S. Open champions advancing included Venus Williams and Marin Cilic into the third round, and Juan Martin del Potro and Svetlana Kuznetsova — who saved three match points — into the second. No. 14 Nick Kyrgios, No. 22 Fabio Fognini, No. 26 Richard Gasquet and No. 27 Pablo Cuevas all lost their openers.

In the early going, it looked as if Sharapova might join them on the way out.

She made 19 unforced errors in the first set, which ended with her missing twice on forehands to give the 59th-ranked Babos the lead. But as the match went on, Sharapova looked more and more like someone who used to be ranked No. 1 and owns five major titles — including the 2006 U.S. Open — than someone who needed a wild-card invitation from the U.S. Tennis Association because she is now 146th, on account of her ban and lack of play.

Sharapova last participated in a major tournament at the 2016 Australian Open, where she tested positive for the newly banned heart drug meldonium.