US Open shocker: Top dog gone
CALL the new Louis Armstrong Stadium the "Graveyard of Favourites."
In the first official match on the $150 million Armstrong court at Flushing Meadows, No. 1 seed Simona Halep of Romania crashed and burned in the first round of the US Open against 43rd-ranked Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-4 before most fans had settled in for the afternoon.
The match, which began at 11am, kicked off the 50th US Open as Halep's fans chanted "Si-mo-na" in the second set as the upset unfolded.
Halep became the first No. 1 seeded woman to lose in the first round in the tournament since 1922 when seedings began.
For all her WTA magnificence, Halep, 26, has made a habit of coming up short in giant moments of Grand Slams - winning just her first major in June at the French Open after many close calls. She's particularly flopped in Flushing Meadows.
"I didn't play great,'' said Halep, who lost in the first round last year to Maria Sharapova. "I didn't find the balance today. I just didn't really feel the ball.
"I think every player is struggling a bit in the first round - always about the nerves even when you are there in the top. You are human.''
Kanepi was surprised by Halep's crowd support. Perhaps the fans didn't realise the magnitude of the upset historically.
"I was thinking about that - why are they cheering for her so much, because normally they cheer for the underdog," said the 33-year-old Kanepi, an Open qualifier last year who traipsed unexpectedly to the quarterfinals. "It was a bit annoying for some time but I got over it."
With a punishing forehand, Kanepi cruised through the first set and got up a break in the second set at 4-2. But Halep, the world's No. 1 player, broke Kanepi at love to draw even at 4-4. The fans were into it.
"I really want to be honest - I didn't expect that (from the crowd),'' Halep said. "I felt the energy."
But Halep couldn't hold her serve and fell behind 5-4, prompting a mini-tantrum during the changeover. Halep shook her head and slammed her towel against the side of her chair repeatedly. Halep got ticked at hitting a poor passing shot on break point, in which Kanepi executed a lovely forehand-sliced angled volley winner.
All the frustration of her many Open failures perhaps came out during her towel smashing. She never has felt quite right here. This was her 10th Open and has made the semi-finals just once.
"Maybe the noise in the crowd, the city is busy, everything together,'' Halep said. "I'm a quiet person maybe I like smaller places. I don't really feel 100 per cent on my game when I step on the court here."
Halep's loss helps Serena Williams' draw. Williams was projected to face Halep in the fourth round.
Meanwhile, Kanepi wasn't daunted when she got Halep first, liking the stylistic matchup.
"Because I can be aggressive when I want to because she defends a lot,'' Kanepi said. "I have time to be aggressive."
Kanepi finished with 26 winners to just nine for Halep. Kanepi won seven points at the net to Halep's zero and broke her five times, converting 5/7 break points.
"I think the court suits my game and I love being in New York,'' Kanepi said. "I like the city and atmosphere and I like the weather - humid and hot."
Indeed, the cooler weather in the days leading up to opening day turned for the worse Monday. At 5-4, Kanepi held for the match as an exhausted-looking Halep floated a forehand long on double-match point, making ignominious history.
For one, Halep wouldn't blame the newness of Armstrong. "Actually I'm happy I was the first one there - even if I lost,'' Halep said. "It is a nice stadium - beautiful."