Top-seeded Halep ousted in Round 1
Some players, like top-ranked Simona Halep, freely acknowledge they don’t deal well with the hustle-and-bustle of the U.S. Open and all it entails.
Others, like 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi, take to the Big Apple and its Grand Slam tournament.
Put those two types at opposite ends of a court at Flushing Meadows and watch what can happen: Halep made a quick-as-can-be exit Monday, overwhelmed by the power-based game of Kanepi 6-2, 6-4 to become the first No. 1-seeded woman to lose her opening match at the U.S. Open in the half-century of the professional era.
On a Day 1 that featured the major tournament debut of 25-second serve clocks, Halep blamed opening-round jitters, a recurring theme throughout her career. The reigning French Open champion has now lost her first match at 12 of 34 career major appearances, a stunningly high rate for such an accomplished player.
“It’s always about the nerves,” said Halep, who was beaten in the first round in New York by five-time major champion Maria Sharapova in 2017. “Even when you are there in the top, you feel the same nerves. You are human.”
She also offered up an explanation tied to this particular site.
“Maybe the noise in the crowd. The city is busy. So everything together,” said Halep, who was coming off consecutive runs to the final at hard-court tuneup tournaments at Cincinnati and Montreal. “I’m a quiet person, so maybe I like the smaller places.”
Her departure means she can’t stand in the way of Serena Williams, who could have faced Halep in the fourth round. Williams, the 23-time major champion who missed last year’s U.S. Open because she gave birth on Sept. 1, returned with a flourish, following singer Kelly Clarkson’s opening night performance in Arthur Ashe Stadium with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Magda Linette under the lights.
“The first set was tight. It was my first back here in New York, so that wasn’t the easiest,” Williams told the crowd. “Once I got settled, I started doing what I’m trying to do in practice.”
Williams, a six-time winner at Flushing Meadows, moved a step closer to a possible third-round matchup against her older sister, two-time winner Venus, who defeated 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.
Others making the second round included defending champion and No. 3 seed Sloane Stephens, two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka, and two-time major champ Garbine Muguruza.
Four seeded men lost in the afternoon, including No. 8 Grigor Dimitrov against three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, who also beat him in the first round of Wimbledon, No. 16 Kyle Edmund and No. 19 Roberto Bautista Agut. Andy Murray, whose three major titles include the 2012 U.S. Open, played his first Grand Slam match in more than a year and won, eliminating James Duckworth 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
Halep’s loss was the first match at the rebuilt Louis Armstrong Stadium, which now has about 14,000 seats and a retractable roof, and what a way to get things started.