Simona Halep makes U.S. Open history with first-round upset as top seed

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Simona Halep became the first No. 1 female seed to lose in the first round in U.S. Open history in the Open Era on Monday. Estonian Kaia Kanepi upset her 6-2, 6-4 in the tournament’s first match at the new Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“I cannot say much about this match, just that I didn’t really feel the ball,” Halep said. “But also, she played really strong and pushed me back, so it was tough.”

The U.S. Open had been the only Grand Slam where the top-seeded woman won her opening match every year of the 50-year Open Era.

The dubious upset happened three times at Wimbledon (Steffi Graf (1994), Martina Hingis (1999 and 2001) and once each at the Australian Open (Virginia Ruzici (1979)) and French Open (Angelique Kerber (2017)).

Halep, a 26-year-old Romanian, smashed and broke her racket on the court early in the second set and was given a warning. Halep fought from a break down to even the second set at 4-all before Kanepi broke again and then served it out.

U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Halep has been ranked No. 1 for most of the last year since ascending to the spot in October. She became the second Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam at the French Open in the spring (after Ruzici) but has now lost in the first round of the U.S. Open two straight years.

Halep was beaten by a then-unseeded Maria Sharapova on the opening night of the 2017 U.S. Open when Sharapova was ranked No. 145 following her doping ban.

“I never play my best tennis here,” said Halep, who has made two U.S. Open quarterfinals, fewest of the four Slams.

Halep’s defeat Monday opens the draw for Serena Williams, the No. 17 seed eyeing her seventh U.S. Open singles title and record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. Williams and Halep could have played in the fourth round.

Now, the only major champion Williams could play before the quarterfinals is older sister Venus Williams, who beat 2004 U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. That all-Williams match would be in the third round, their earliest Slam meeting since their first at the 1998 Australian Open.

Halep has now lost in the first round 12 times in her 34 career Grand Slams, granted most were between 2010-13, before Halep became a seeded player.

“Every player is struggling a little bit in the first round,” she said. “It’s always about the nerves. Even when you are there in the top, you feel the same nerves. You are human. So it’s the same thing. For me, it’s more difficult in the first rounds, because I’m more emotional. That’s why I need a good start.”

Kanepi, a 33-year-old former top-20 player, has been playing Grand Slam tennis since 2006, having reached six quarterfinals, including at the 2017 U.S. Open.

“Actually I felt more pressure, because I have to defend my [ranking] points [from 2017], so I didn’t feel really confident coming here playing the first seed,” Kanepi said after playing on an 80-plus-degree day. “I love being in New York. I like the city. I like the atmosphere in tournaments and in the city, also. And I like the weather: humid and hot.”

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Olympic 400m champion, announces pregnancy

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Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the two-time reigning Olympic 400m champion, announced she is pregnant with her first child.

“New Year, New Blessing,” she posted on social media with husband Maicel Uibo, the 2019 World Championships silver medalist in the decathlon for Estonia. “We can’t wait to meet our little bundle of joy.”

Miller-Uibo’s agency said she plans to return to sprinting, but they don’t yet have a timeline of her plans.

Miller-Uibo, 28, followed her repeat Olympic title in Tokyo by winning her first world indoor and outdoor titles last year.

Also last year, Miller-Uibo said she planned to drop the 400m and focus on the 200m going into the 2024 Paris Games rather than possibly bid to become the first woman to win the same individual Olympic running event three times.

She has plenty of experience in the 200m, making her world championships debut in that event in 2013 and placing fourth. She earned 200m bronze at the 2017 Worlds, was the world’s fastest woman in the event in 2019 and petitioned for a Tokyo Olympic schedule change to make a 200m-400m double easier. The petition was unsuccessful.

She did both races anyway, finishing last in the 200m final, 1.7 seconds behind the penultimate finisher on the same day of the 400m first round.

She did not race the 200m at last July’s worlds, where the 200m and 400m overlapped.

Notable moms to win individual Olympic sprint titles include American Wilma Rudolph, who swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 1960 Rome Olympics two years after having daughter Yolanda.

And Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics, when the mother of two also held world records in the high jump and long jump, two events in which she didn’t compete at those Games.

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