Stunner On The First Day As No. 1 Seed Simona Halep Exits

Kaia Kanepi officially opened Louis Armstrong Court ruthlessly closing the curtain on Simona Halep in a historic upset.

Cranking deep drives in the corners, Kanepi reduced the world No. 1 to the role of retriever winning nine of the first 11 games en route to a 6-2, 6-4, US Open shocker.

Kanepi said there’s a simple reason for the upset.

“I can be aggressive when I want to, because she defends a lot,” Kanepi said. “But I have time to be aggressive.”

Two months after fighting off US Open champion Sloane Stephens to win her first career Grand Slam in Paris, Halep made ignominious history.

It’s the first time in history the top seed fell in the US Open first round and the second straight year Halep exited in the opening-round of Flushing Meadows. Halep suffered her 12th Grand Slam opening-round exit, including her third in New York.

“She started pretty well and pretty strong, so those first games were tough,” Halep said. “Actually, I expected her to play like that without fear and hitting the balls really strong. 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, so it was tough. It is tough. But it’s okay.”

It sends a seismic shock through the congested top quarter of the draw that features four former world No. 1 players, including Serena Williams and Venus Williams.

Two-time quarterfinalist Kanepi earned her first win over a world No. 1 since she subdued Caroline Wozniacki, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, in Tokyo in 2011.

A year ago, former champion Maria Sharapova strong-armed her way past Halep in the 2017 opener.

On the surface, Kanepi cut a less imposing figure in the draw.

On the court, it was a different dynamic.

Playing with kinesiology tape snaking her left shoulder, Kanepi controlled the center of the court and slashed heavy shots roaring out to a 5-1 lead.

The barrage provoked a tightly-wound Halep to slamming her racquet to the court in frustration at one point.

The 33-year-old Estonian erupted for nearly three times as many winners—26 to 9—as the reigning Roland Garros champion.

On the surface, it’s a stunner.

In reality, Kanepi controlled the match from start to finish converting five of seven break points and winning 14 of 20 (70 percent) points played on Halep’s second serve.

Yet by the time the 44th-ranked baseliner was done with the job, she looked like the least surprised person in all of the 14,000-seat Armstrong.

Still, she conceded she felt spiking pressure to defend her quarterfinal points.

“I felt more pressure because I have to defend my points so I didn’t really feel confident coming here playing the top seed,” Kanepi said.

A year ago, Kanepi arrived in New York ranked No. 412 and proceeded to play through qualifying knocking off Francesca Schiavone, former US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina en route to the quarterfinals.

On a sweltering day, Kanepi blasted through the top seed and sticky conditions.

Halep took a bathroom break after dropping the first set and tried to flush her frustration.

As Kanepi banged out the break to open the second set, Halep spiked her Wilson racquet to the court.

Romanian fans rhythmically chanted “Simona! Simona!” trying to rouse the Rogers Cup champion.

Halep had won nine of her last 10 matches and came within one point of becoming the first woman to sweep the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati in succession, but she couldn’t find solutions battling fatigue and a harder-hitting opponent who closed seven of nine trips to net.

“I was tired after Cincinnati so I needed to rest,” Halep said. “But today, I just lost. I didn’t play great, but she played really well. I knew that she can play really well here. She played quarterfinals last year. I didn’t find the balance today. I couldn’t play better. So that’s it.”

Falling into a 0-3 second-set hole, Halep continued to fight and broke at love to level at 4-all.

One points from a 5-4 lead, Halep succumbed to a series of errros squandering a 40-15 lead.

A composed Kanepi broke back and then completed a rousing upset in 76 minutes.

Afterward, a young kid in a baseball cap asked Kanepi if he could have her racquet as she signed autographs for a swarm of fans.

“I need it for the next match,” Kanepi said with a chuckle.

Kanepi will try to sustain her roll against Swiss qualifier Jil Teichmann, who won her fourth straight Flushing Meadows match with a 6-3, 6-0, thrashing of Dalila Jakupovic that spanned just 53 minutes.

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