NEW YORK : A year after a most painful absence, Maria Sharapova returned to her winning ways at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The fifth-seeded Sharapova overcame a few wobbles with her serve tosses and took the final 10 games Monday night, beating longtime friend Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 6-0 in the first round at the U.S. Open.
The 2006 champion missed last year's tournament because of an injured right shoulder. Sharapova has always enjoyed the excitement at Flushing Meadows, and said it hurt to be in New York late last summer while unable to play.
"It was tough missing this court," she said. "It was a little bit too sad." Sharapova trailed 4-2 in the first set. She then took control in the matchup between 27-year-old Russians and didn't drop another game.
Sharapova has had some trouble with her serves since getting injured. Four times in a span of four points midway through the first set, she tossed the ball in the air, only to catch it instead of hitting it -- a buzzing sound system, a plane flying overhead and a slight wind gust may have contributed.
A little bit later, actor Alec Baldwin got into the action. Seated in the front row behind the baseline, he flawlessly caught an out-of-bounds shot by Kirilenko that sailed over Sharapova and bounced into the seats.
Baldwin got a nice cheer from the crowd, and tossed the souvenir to a ball boy. Kirilenko came out strong in her first action since Wimbledon. Once ranked in the top 10, she came into this match at No. 113 after a series of injuries.
Sharapova leads 6-2 in the all-time series between the players who have known each other since before they were teens. They have practiced with each other and spent time away from the court as pals.
Sharapova said "it's never quite easy" playing against someone who is also a friend. Aware of Kirilenko's recent run of health woes, Sharapova said "it's good to see her" playing well.