Maria Sharapova described her US Open campaign as a “great ride” after losing in the fourth round to Anastasija Sevastova.
The Russian won the opening set but could not sustain the momentum and fell to a 5-7 6-4 6-2 loss.
This was only Sharapova’s fifth tournament, and first grand slam, since her comeback from a 15-month doping ban in April because of injury and she exceeded most expectations by getting this far.
The 30-year-old has had to battle in all her matches and it was no surprise to see her run out of steam, hitting 51 unforced errors.
Sharapova said: ” It’s been a really great ride in the last week. It’s great to get that major out of the way. It was an incredible opportunity. I’m very thankful for the opportunity. I did my best. I can be proud of that.
“I think there are a lot of positives. Playing four matches, playing in front of a big crowd and fans. Just competing, being in that competitive environment. That’s what I missed.
“You can’t replicate that anywhere, especially at a grand slam. Monday night was a special night for me. I will always remember it.
“I came in not playing a lot of matches. We all know that. Didn’t have much practice. Obviously it’s always disappointing to be on the losing end of things. But, reflecting back on the week, I can be happy.”
The stand-out memory from Sharapova’s run in New York will be her first-round victory over second seed Simona Halep, where she sustained a remarkable level for someone who has played so little competitive tennis.
The ranking points she will gain for reaching the last 16 also means there is a very good chance this will be the last slam she needs to enter via a wild card.
The end of that particular debate will surely be a relief to everyone within tennis.
This was a step up for Sharapova after her victories over Timea Babos and Sofia Kenin, with Sevastova now through to the quarter-finals in New York for a second straight year.
The Latvian defeated Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta 12 months ago and has since climbed to 17th in the world rankings.
Sevastova cannot match Sharapova for power but possesses excellent court craft and a wicked drop shot.
In the first set that was not enough to combat the Sharapova forehand but Sevastova stuck to her game-plan, probing away intelligently, forcing her opponent to put pace on the ball and dragging the Russian all around the court.
There was nothing wrong with Sharapova’s improvisational skills and she played two left-handed forehands – her second and third of the match – in a single point to hold for 3-4 in the second set.
Her big chance to level came in the following game but, when her return on break point was called out, Sharapova chose not to challenge. Replays showed it was well in.
Sevastova ran with her luck to win the set and, after Sharapova had taken a long toilet break, dropped just one point in the opening three games of the decider.
Sevastova got a little tight as she was pegged back from 3-0 to 3-2, but Sharapova by now was spraying forehands all over the place.
The 16th seed quelled the nerves and won the final three games to set up a quarter-final clash with Sloane Stephens, who continued her remarkable comeback from nearly a year out with a foot injury by beating Julia Goerges 6-3 3-6 6-1.
There will have been a lot of players in the women’s locker room delighted about Sevastova’s victory, but she insisted she did not feel any extra incentive to beat Sharapova.
“I think some players have that,” she said. “I don’t have that. I have great respect for her. I was 14 years old, I was playing under-14, at a tournament, and she was winning Wimbledon the same day basically.
“I was confident. I was feeling it. But still you have to beat her. I think she was playing one of the better matches here.”
Stephens played her first tournament since last summer’s Olympics at Wimbledon and has hit her stride remarkably quickly, following up semi-final runs in Toronto and Cincinnati by making her first US Open quarter-final.
The American said: “I’m just really happy. Obviously when I started playing again, I didn’t expect much. I was just playing and having fun. I’m still playing and having a good time. That’s really all there is to it.”
While Sevastova and Stephens prepare for their quarter-final, Sharapova will turn her attention to the Asian hard-court swing and the tournaments in Beijing and Tianjin, where she has already been given wild cards. (PA)