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Is Maria Sharapova Suddenly a U.S. Open Contender?

Maria Sharapova's win resonated on a rainy day at the U.S. Open, plus more thoughts on Naomi Osaka's upset and straight-set wins by the world's No. 1 players, Rafael Nadal and Karolina Pliskova.

NEW YORK – Five thoughts on a rainy afternoon of Day Two from the U.S. Open.

• With rain halting play on the outside courts—and validating the roof on the big court—last night’s matches still echoed. When the draw came out, the tennis salon collectively circled the women’s match pitting wild card Maria Sharapova against second-seeded Simona Halep. The expectation was warranted. In the most intense—and generally well played—first round match you’ll ever witness, Sharapova earned her most significant win in years. We’ve long known about her ballstriking and competitiveness when a player not named Serena is on the other side of the net. What struck me most last night was Sharapova’s movement. Against Halep, no less, one of the slicker athletes in the women’s game, Sharapova distinguished herself for her locomotion. At a time when the women’s draw is not so much open as it is a gaping chasm, Sharapova might suddenly have become a contender.

Maria Sharapova Upsets No. 2 Simona Halep in U.S. Open First Round

• When the tournament started, any of eight women stood a chance of finishing the event with the top ranking. Ironically—or not—the player who won the U.S. Open title last year and started 2017 ranked No. 1 was not among them. Since her title in 2016, it’s been rough going for Angie Kerber; and returning to the scene of her biggest triumph offered no quarter. Kerber lost on Tuesday to Naomi Osaka, 6-3, 6-1 in 65 minutes, her 18th loss of the year. Taking nothing away from Osaka, an ascending talent, Kerber is really reeling.

19-Year-Old Naomi Osaka Upends Defending U.S. Open Champ Angelique Kerber

• The top women’s seed, Karolina Pliskova had no troubles with Magda Linette. The top men’s, Rafael Nadal, got off to shaky start but recovered and beat Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 7-6(6), 6-2, 6-2. The matches on outside courts have been called for the day on account of rain. Not tragic. But it does means that many players will be asked to play back-to-back days now.

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Some items unrelated to match results:

• Who recalls Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale the businessman and philanthropist from Houston who owns Gallery Furniture and, for a time, (flamboyantly) ran the Houston ATP event and 2004 Tennis Masters Cup?

This week, as his city bore the brunt of Hurricane Harvey, McIngvale gave out his personal phone number and turned his two furniture stores into temporary shelters for evacuees. “We sell home theater furniture that you watch TV in, they're sleeping on that. They're sleeping on recliners, sleeping on sofas and love seats. We have sleeper sofas, they pulled them out and slept on that," McIngvale tells NPR's Morning Edition. "They're sleeping on hundreds of mattresses throughout the store. They're sleeping on the couches—wherever they can find a place that's comfortable, and God bless 'em."

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• It was obscured by the news from the fourth major, but Kimiko Date announced—quietly as ever—that she’ll retire after next month’s Japan Open. For all the talk about the aging field in tennis, this is the ultimate embodiment. Date turned pro in 1988 and was a top five player in the mid-90s. She then took off 12 years before deciding to give tennis another shot. Early in her comeback—when was only, you know, 40—she beat players on the order of Maria Sharapova, Sam Stosur and Dinara Safina. As recently as Stanford 2015, she was beating Sabine Lisicki. A few days short of her 47th birthday, she'll say sayonara. We’ll say domo arigato.