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Sports

Sharapova-Halep at U.S. Open; Federer-Nadal Could Be Semifinal

Much of the buzz Friday was about Sharapova's showdown against Halep, a two-time French Open runner-up

Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a forehand return to Serena Williams of the United States during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, photo: AP/Rick Rycroft
4 months ago

NEW YORK – Welcome back to Grand Slam tennis, Maria Sharapova.

There will be no easing into the U.S. Open for Sharapova, whose first match at a major tournament since her doping suspension comes against No. 2-seeded Simona Halep at Flushing Meadows.

That attention-grabbing first-round matchup was determined by Friday’s draw, which also eliminated the possibility of a men’s final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal by placing them on the same side of the bracket. They could face each other in the semifinals at the U.S. Open, the only major tournament where they have never met head-to-head.

Play begins Monday.

Nadal is seeded No. 1 in New York for the first time since 2010; Federer is No. 3. They have played 37 times, including 12 at the other majors — most recently the Australian Open in January, when Federer edged Nadal in five sets.

Nadal won his record 10th French Open trophy in June, and Federer won his record eighth Wimbledon title in July. Federer owns a record 19 Grand Slam championships; Nadal ranks second among men with 15.

The other semifinal could be No. 2 Andy Murray vs. No. 4 Alexander Zverev.

Much of the buzz Friday was about Sharapova’s showdown against Halep, a two-time French Open runner-up. The U.S. Tennis Association awarded a wild card to Sharapova, who is ranked 147th after returning from a 15-month doping suspension in April, so she could have been randomly placed against anyone.

“It’s an exciting match,” defending champion Angelique Kerber said. “I mean, for the first round, it’s a tough match for both of them.”

Sharapova is a former No. 1 with a career Grand Slam; her five major championships include the 2006 U.S. Open. She was banned from the tour for 15 months — returning in April — after testing positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

“That’s the one player everybody wanted to see where she would land. … No top seed wanted to draw Maria Sharapova (in the) first round,” former U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. “I don’t think Maria’s going to be intimidated, because I don’t think anyone intimidates her.”

The 30-year-old Sharapova was eligible to make her Grand Slam return at the French Open, but that country’s tennis federation declined to offer her a wild card. Sharapova then planned to try to qualify for Wimbledon, but she skipped the grass-court circuit because of an injured left thigh.

She is 6-0 against Halep, including a win in the 2014 French Open final. Halep also lost this year’s Roland Garros title match to Jelena Ostapenko.

Possible women’s quarterfinal matchups on the draw’s bottom half include Halep or Sharapova against Johanna Konta; and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza against Caroline Wozniacki or Venus Williams, a seven-time major champion.

Williams’ sister, 23-time major champion Serena, is not playing in the U.S. Open because she is pregnant.

On the top half of the bracket, the quarterfinals could be No. 1 Karolina Pliskova against 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova; and Kerber or Ostapenko against Elina Svitolina or Madison Keys.

Kerber beat Pliskova in last year’s final in New York to reach No. 1. But Kerber’s 2017 has been rough, including a first-round loss at the French Open, and she is seeded No. 6. A total of eight women have a chance to hold the No. 1 ranking when the U.S. Open ends.

Three men — Nadal, Murray or Federer — could be No. 1 after the tournament.

The potential men’s quarterfinals: Nadal against Grigor Dimitrov, Federer against Dominic Thiem, Murray against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Zverev against 2014 champion Marin Cilic.

Cilic was hampered by a foot blister while losing this year’s Wimbledon final to Federer and hasn’t played a match since. Cilic then dealt with an injured left leg and didn’t even practice for about two weeks.

“I never came to a Grand Slam without playing any tournaments (right) before,” he said. “So it’s going to be a unique experience for me.”

HOWARD FENDRICH,

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