NEW YORK: Russian wildcard Maria Sharapova, making her return to Grand Slam tennis after a 15-month doping suspension, will face world No.2 Simona Halep in the first round of the US Open.
Sharapova has a 6-0 career record against Halep, who last Sunday missed out on a third chance in as many months to climb to the top of the rankings.
Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova was issued a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned heart and blood boosting drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal.
She said that she had taken it for several years and did not know it had been placed on the banned list at the start of 2016.
Former world number one Sharapova made her return in April at Stuttgart, reaching the semi-finals as a wildcard, but such invitations sparked criticism from some WTA rivals, saying she should have to work her way back without such benefits, some suggesting a life ban.
Sharapova was refused a wildcard by French Open organizers and missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury. A forearm injury has limited her to one US Open hardcourt tuneup match.
Sharapova has missed three of the past four US Opens, her last visit ending in the 2014 fourth round.
Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain humbled Halep 6-1, 6-0 in last Sunday’s final at Cincinnati to deny her the top ranking.
Halep also lost playing for number one in the French Open final against Jelena Ostapenko and a Wimbledon quarter-final against Johanna Konta, each time after taking the first set.
Britain’s Konta, the seventh seed, could meet Halep in the quarter-finals.
World number one Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic opens against Poland’s Magda Linette. She could meet Russian eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter-finals.
Defending champion Angelique Kerber, the sixth seed from Germany, will open against Japan’s Naomi Osaka. She could meet Ukraine’s fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina in the last eight.
Third seed Muguruza and Denmark’s fifth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki could also meet in the quarters. Wozniacki will open against a qualifier while Muguruza’s first foe is American Varvara Lepchenko.
US ninth seed Venus Williams, one of eight players who could finish the US Open atop the world rankings, will open against a qualifier. The 37-year-old, seven-time Grand Slam champion could face Wozniacki in the fourth round.