NEW YORK — Some players, like top-ranked Simona Halep, freely acknowledge they don’t deal well with the hustle-and-bustle of the U.S. Open and all it entails.

Others, like 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi, take to the Big Apple and its Grand Slam tournament.

Put those two types at opposite ends of a court and watch what can happen: Halep made a quick-as-can-be exit Monday, overwhelmed by the power-based game of Kanepi 6-2, 6-4 to become the first No. 1-seeded woman to lose her opening match at the U.S. Open in the half-century of the professional era.

On a Day 1 that featured the major tournament debut of 25-second serve clocks, Halep blamed opening-round jitters, a recurring theme. Halep, the reigning French Open champion, has lost her first match at 12 of 34 career major appearances, a stunningly high rate for such an accomplished player.

“It’s always about the nerves,” said Halep, who was beaten in the first round in New York by a five-time major champion, Maria Sharapova, in 2017. “Even when you are there in the top you feel the same nerves. You are human.”

She also offered up an explanation tied to this particular site.

“Maybe the noise in the crowd. The city is busy. So everything together,” said Halep, who was coming off consecutive runs to the final at hard-court tuneup tournaments at Cincinnati and Montreal. “I’m a quiet person so maybe I like the smaller places.”

Her departure means she can’t stand in the way of Serena Williams, who could have faced Halep in the fourth round. Williams, the 23-time major champion who missed last year’s U.S. Open because she gave birth on Sept. 1, returned with a flourish – a 6-4, 6-0 win over Magda Linette under the lights.

“The first set was tight. It was my first time back here in New York so that wasn’t the easiest,” Williams said. “Once I got settled, I started doing what I’m trying to do in practice.”

Williams, a six-time Open winner, moved a step closer to a possible third-round matchup against her older sister, two-time winner Venus, who defeated the 2004 champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.

Others making the second round included defending champion and No. 3 seed Sloane Stephens, two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka and two-time major champ Garbine Muguruza.

Four seeded men lost in the afternoon, including No. 8 Grigor Dimitrov against three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, who also beat him in the first round of Wimbledon, No. 16 Kyle Edmund and No. 19 Roberto Bautista Agut. Andy Murray, whose three major titles include the 2012 U.S. Open, played his first Grand Slam match in more than a year and won, eliminating James Duckworth, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.

Halep’s loss was the first match at the rebuilt Louis Armstrong Stadium, which now has about 14,000 seats and a retractable roof, and what a way to get things started. That cover was not needed to protect from rain on Day 1 at the year’s last major tournament – although some protection from the bright sun and its 90-degree heat might have been in order.

“The courts suit my game and I love being in New York. I like the city,” said Kanepi, who is from Estonia and is sharing a coach this week with another player, Andrea Petkovic. “I like the weather: humid and hot.”

But several players had trouble in the heat, struggling with cramping or simply breathing.

Since professionals were admitted to Grand Slam tournaments in 1968, only five times before Monday did women seeded No. 1 lose their opening match at a major, and never at the U.S. Open. It happened twice to Martina Hingis and once to Steffi Graf at Wimbledon, once to Angelique Kerber at the French Open and once to Virginia Ruzici at the Australian Open.

Halep got off to a slow start at Roland Garros this year, too, dropping her opening set, also by a 6-2 score, but ended up pulling out the victory there and adding six more to lift the trophy.

There would be no such turnaround for her against Kanepi, a big hitter who dictated the points to claim her second career win against a top-ranked player – but first top-20 victory since 2015. Kanepi has shown the occasional ability to grab significant results, including a run to the quarterfinals at this tournament a year ago.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.