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.
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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