Tennis

Top-ranked Halep makes shocking 1st-round exit at U.S. Open

Simona Halep has become the first No. 1-seeded woman to lose in first round of the U.S. Open in the professional era.

Romanian loses in opening round at Flushing Meadows for 2nd year in a row

Romania's Simona Halep serves to Estonia's Kaia Kanepi during the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday. (Andres Kudacki/The Associated Press)

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.

Watch Kanepi close out Halep for the upset:

The world No.1 fell to 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi in straight sets 6-2, 6-4. It's the 2nd straight year Halep has fallen in the 1st round. 1:08

Halep blamed opening-round jitters, and that has been 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 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."

'I love being in New York'

It 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. That cover was not needed to protect from rain on Day 1 at the year's last major tournament — although some protection from the bright sun and its 33 C heat might have been in order.

"The courts suit my game, and I love being in New York. I like the city," said Kanepi, who is from Estonia and is sharing a coach this week with another player, Andrea Petkovic. "I like the weather: humid and hot."

Since professionals were admitted to Grand Slam tournaments in 1968, only five times before Monday did women seeded No. 1 lose their opening match at a major — and never at the U.S. Open. It happened twice to Martina Hingis and once to Steffi Graf at Wimbledon, once to Angelique Kerber at the French Open and once to Virginia Ruzici at the Australian Open.

Halep got off to a slow start at Roland Garros this year, too, dropping her opening set, also by a 6-2 score, but ended up pulling out the victory there and adding six more to lift the trophy.

There would be no such turnaround for her against Kanepi, a big hitter who dictated the points to claim her second career win against a top-ranked player — but first top-20 victory since 2015. Kanepi has shown the occasional ability to grab significant results, including a run to the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows a year ago.

On this day, Kanepi took charge of baseline exchanges, compiling a 26-9 edge in winners, 14 on her favored forehand side alone. Wearing two strips of athletic tape on her left shoulder, the right-handed Kanepi also had far more unforced errors, 28-9, but that high-risk, high-reward style ultimately paid off.

"I thought, 'I just have to be aggressive and try to stay calm,"' Kanepi said.

Williams sisters, Murray safely through

Serena Williams has won the first match of her return to the U.S. Open.

The No. 17 seed beat Magda Linette 6-4, 6-0 in the opening match of the night session at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Williams missed last year's U.S. Open and gave birth to her daughter during the tournament.

She could play older sister Venus, the No. 16 seed, in the third round.

Watch highlights from Williams' victory against Linette:

Serena Williams beats Magda Linette in straight sets 6-4, 6-0. 1:14

"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."

Venus Williams moved to the second round by beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 in a matchup of past U.S. Open champions.

Williams, the No. 16 seed and a semifinalist last year at Flushing Meadows, could play younger sister Serena in the third round. That would be their earliest Grand Slam matchup in 20 years.

Venus Williams won the 2000 and '01 U.S. Open championships but struggled in the majors this year, falling in the first round of the Australian Open and French Open. She reached the third round at Wimbledon, which she has won five times.

Kuznetsova won the 2004 U.S. Open and was granted a wild card to this year's tournament. She also won the 2009 French Open.

Andy Murray was a winner in his return to Grand Slam tennis, beating James Duckworth 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the U.S. Open.

The 2012 U.S. Open champion from Britain has sat out much of the last year because of hip surgery. He hadn't appeared in a major since Wimbledon in 2017.

Murray is just 5-3 this season. The former No. 1 player is currently No. 382 in the world, using a protected ranking to enter the tournament. Murray, who said he didn't think it was realistic that he could win the title, could play 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the third round.

Nadal advances, Ferrer plays in final Grand Slam

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal advanced to the second round of the U.S. Open when David Ferrer retired in the second set of their all-Spanish matchup.

Nadal won the first set but trailed 3-4 in the second when Ferrer had to stop because of injury.

The defending champion said he felt bad for his Davis Cup teammate, whom he beat for the 2013 French Open title.

Ferrer said afterward it was his final Grand Slam match and he was sorry he wasn't able to finish it.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.