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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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MORE: Serena Williams reacts to French Open catsuit ban

Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)