NEW YORK — World number one Simona Halep was swept aside 6-2, 6-4 by 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi on Monday, the first top-seeded woman ever to lose in the US Open first round.
It was a second straight first-round exit at Flushing Meadows for Romania’s Halep, who dropped her opening match to Maria Sharapova last year.
The French Open champion had no answer for Kanepi’s powerful groundstrokes.
The Estonian fired 26 winners to Halep’s nine, and even her 28 unforced errors weren’t enough to derail her challenge as she brought the rallies to quick ends and remorselessly punished Halep’s second serve.
“Yesterday I thought I have beaten just once the world number one, today I had another chance,” said a beaming Kanepi, who defeated then No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in Tokyo back in 2011.
Kanepi, whose six Grand Slam quarter-final appearances include a run to the last eight in New York last year, earned a second-round meeting with Swiss qualifier Jil Teichmann, a 6-3, 6-0 winner over Dalila Jakupovic.
WILLIAMS GETS WARM WELCOME
Serena Williams took the first cautious step towards a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with a 6-4 6-0 first-round win over Magda Linette on Monday as an excited US Open crowd welcomed the new tennis mother back to the ‘Big Apple’.
It was not the imposing performance many have come to expect from Williams as the six-time champion continued to scrape the rust off her game following the birth of her first child.
The manner of the victory, however, mattered little to a home crowd that was just happy to see her back on court after sitting out last year.
“It is such a great feeling to be back out here,” said Williams. “It is one of those feeling I only get here in New York.”
Telling the crowd that her spirit was broken after not saying goodbye to her daughter Olympia before leaving for her match, Williams displayed little appetite for a fight during an uneven opening set until she finally seized control with a break to go up 4-3.
Williams, the winner of 72 career singles titles, has the ability to sense when she has an opponent on the ropes and moved in quickly to deliver the knockout punch, breaking the 68th ranked Pole to open the second.
While her game might not have been firing on all cylinders her ruthlessness remained razor sharp as the American showed no hesitation storming through second set finishing off her opponent with a thundering ace.
The Williams sisters bridged the afternoon and evening sessions on a steamy Arthur Ashe with Venus providing the opening act of the twin bill, grinding out a 6-3 5-7 6-3 victory over another former champion, Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, before handing the stage over to her younger sibling.
The wins put the sisters on a collision course, leaving them just one victory away from a third-round showdown.
While Venus remains a potential obstacle standing in the way of a 24th Grand Slam, Serena’s path to the final was cleared of another major hurdle earlier on Monday when world number one Simona Halep was upset by Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi.
It might not have been a stylish win over Linette but it was nonetheless a stylish display by Williams.
As always, the fashion conscious Williams created a buzz as she appeared from the players tunnel under a spotlight wearing a leather style jacket over a frilly off the shoulder tennis dress and fishnet compression tights designed to help circulation and avoid blood clots. — AFP/Reuters