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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Simona Halep stunned by Kaia Kanepi in US Open first round

Wawrinka sends No 8 seed Dimitrov crashing out while Edmund suffers surprise defeat to Lorenzi

Simona Halep had no answers for Kaia Kanepi's power in the first round of the US Open. AFP
Simona Halep had no answers for Kaia Kanepi's power in the first round of the US Open. AFP

Simona Halep created a piece of unwanted history ­on Monday when she became the first ­female world No 1 in the Open era to lose in the first round of the US Open after a shock ­defeat to Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi.

Halep, the reigning French Open champion, entered the final grand slam of the season in fine form having won the Rogers Cup in Montreal and reached the Cincinnati Open final.

But playing in the first match on the newly renovated Louis Armstrong Stadium court, the 26-year-old Romanian failed to sustain any kind of service rhythm and her usually stout defence proved no match for Kanepi’s bruising groundstrokes and deft drop shots. It is the second successive year Halep has fallen at the first hurdle in New York, ­having lost to Maria Sharapova in 2017.

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“I have always loved being in New York,” said Kanepi, who has twice reached the quarter-finals of the US Open, including last year after she came through qualifying.

“I like the atmosphere. I like being here. I love the courts and the climate, and I think that the courts suit my game really well.”

Kanepi, 33, earned the first break when she launched a back-hand lob over Halep’s head to jump out to a 2-1 lead.

The world No 44 broke again in the fifth game and never looked back.

Halep won just 59 per cent of her first-serve points compared to 80 per cent for Kanepi in the set. Frustration for ­Halep boiled over in the second game of the second set when she smashed her racket on the court, earning a racket abuse warning from the chair umpire.

Halep recovered and it appeared a comeback was on when she broke Kanepi to love to level the second set at 4-4, but Kanepi completed the upset when Halep sent a service return long on match point.

“Simona is No 1 in the world. She plays constantly well,” Kanepi said. “But I know I can play well too. That’s what I ­was thinking.”

Halep was magnanimous in defeat and admitted she couldn’t find an answer to Kanepi’s powerful hitting.

“I expected her to play like that, without fear, and hitting the ball really strong,” Halep said. “I cannot say much about this match, just that I didn’t really feel the ball. But also she played really strong and pushed me back. It was tough, but it’s OK.”

Ukrainian seventh seed Elina Svitolina managed to avoid ­becoming another high-profile casualty after coming through a topsy-turvy first round match.

Svitolina, the reigning and two-time Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship winner, recovered from a second-set slump to defeat American Sachia Vickery 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 on Grandstand.

Belgian 15th seed Elise Mertens advanced after an epic tussle with Japan’s Kurumi Nara, defeating the world No 99 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 in two hours and 45 minutes.

In the men’s event, local hope Jack Sock shrugged off his recent poor form with a comprehensive 6-0, 7-6, 6-2 victory over Argentine Guido Andreozzi.

American Sock, the world No 18, entered the US Open on a seven-match losing streak, but showed no signs of his recent struggles to book his place in the second round.

Three-time grand slam winner Stan Wawrinka made light work of No 8 seed Grigor Dimitrov with an impressive 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 victory in the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Canadian 25th seed Milos Raonic needed four sets to get past Argentine qualifier Carlos Berloq as the former Wimbledon finalist advanced 7-6, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.

British 16th seed Kyle ­Edmund became the first big casualty in the men’s first round when he was defeated 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 by the Italian Paolo ­Lorenzi.