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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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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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