New York: World number one Simona Halep was swept aside 6-2, 6-4 by 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi on Monday, the first top-seeded woman ever to lose in the US Open first round.
It was the kind of Grand Slam history Halep could have done without as she tried to expunge the memory of her first-round loss to Maria Sharapova at Flushing Meadows last year. But the Romanian, who broke through for a first Grand Slam title at the French Open this year, had no answer for Kanepi's power.
The Estonian fired 26 winners to Halep's nine, and even her 28 unforced errors weren't enough to derail her challenge as she cut the rallies short and remorselessly punished Halep's second serve.
"I thought I just have to be aggressive and try to stay calm," said Kanepi, whose run to the quarter-finals last year is just one of her six trips to the last eight in majors — although she has never gone farther.
The victory let some light into a tight quarter of the draw that also includes 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, seven-time Slam winner Venus Williams and two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza.
With one more major title, Serena will match the all-time record of Australian Margaret Court. To do so she might have to get past elder sister Venus in the third round. Venus, a seven-time Slam winner, out-duelled another former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.
Venus was unable to convert two match points against the Russian's serve in the second set, but given the same chance in the third, she took it with a mighty forehand winner on her fifth match point. Spain's Muguruza also advanced, beating China's Zhang Shuai 6-3, 6-0.
For Halep it was a swift end to the dream of a second major title to go with the French Open she won in June. The Romanian, whose number one ranking is not in jeopardy, had no excuses.
"I cannot say much about this match, just that I didn't really feel the ball," Halep said, adding, "but also, she played really strong and pushed me back, so it was tough."
Kanepi took the match by the throat with a run of five straight games in the opening set. She was up 3-0 in the second before Halep dug in to force it back to 4-4.
"I think I didn't go that much anymore for my shots. That's why it came to 4-4," Kanepi added, saying, "so I thought I have to hit more aggressive again, and I tried to do that."
It worked. Up 40-15 in the ninth game, Halep was unable to hold serve and Kanepi efficiently served out the match, earning a standing ovation from a crowd on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium court that shortly before had been chanting for Halep.
As Halep pondered why, in her own opinion, she has been unable to produce her best tennis in New York — a semi-final run in 2015 notwithstanding — big-hitting Kanepi was feeling right at home in the Big Apple.
"I love playing here in New York, I have always loved it. Maybe the court suits my game. I like the city. I like the atmosphere in the tournament and in the city. I like the weather — humid and hot," she said.
Defending champion Sloane Stephens encountered late resistance but held on for a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Russian Evgeniya Rodina.
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Updated Date: Aug 28, 2018 07:54:44 IST