Monday, August 27, 2018

Halep suffers historic loss; Stephens, Serena advance

Simona Halep, playing in 2015, became
the first top-seeded woman to lose her
opening match in the 50-year history of
the U.S. Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Defending champion Sloane Stephens and six-time winner Serena Williams, both of whom have strong Northern California ties, won't have to worry about facing Simona Halep before the U.S. Open final.
   Halep today became the first top-seeded woman to lose her opening match in the tournament's 50-year history. In the first match in rebuilt Louis Armstrong Stadium, she was overpowered by 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-2, 6-4 in 76 minutes.
   The 5-foot-11 (1.81-meter) Kanepi, a quarterfinalist last year in Flushing Meadows, is five inches (12.7 centimeters) taller than Halep.
   Halep also lost in the first round of last year's U.S. Open, to 2006 champion Maria Sharapova, after reaching the quarterfinals in 2016 and semifinals in 2015.
   "I never play my best tennis here, even if I've done quarterfinals, semifinals," Halep moaned to reporters. "I feel like my game is not at its best, but always I fight for every match.
   "Maybe it's the noise in the crowd; the city is busy. It's everything together. I'm a quiet person, so maybe I like the smaller places."
   Like Paris? Halep won her first Grand Slam title in the French Open in June and tuned up for the U.S. Open by winning Montreal and holding championship point before losing to Kiki Bertens the following week in Cincinnati.
   "I was tired (today), but positive tired because I played so many matches in Montreal and Cincinnati," said Halep, who withdrew from last week's Connecticut Open with an Achilles injury. " ... Today was not my day; the balance was not there. I couldn't feel myself strong on the court to win this match. I was actually practicing OK yesterday and two days ago, but that's it. It's just a day, and it's a bad day for me. She deserved to win because she was playing better than me today." 
   Five other times, a woman has lost in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament since professionals were admitted in 1968. Also owning that dubious distinction are Martina Hingis (twice) and Steffi Graf at Wimbledon, Angelique Kerber at the French Open and Virginia Ruzici at the Australian Open. Ruzici, like Halep, is Romanian.
   Halep could have faced Williams, seeded 17th, in the fourth round and Stephens, seeded third, in the semifinals.
   Williams, who has a residence in Silicon Valley, defeated Magda Linette of Poland 6-4, 6-0 in 69 minutes in a featured night match. Stephens, a Fresno product, beat Evgeniya Rodina of Russia 6-1, 7-5. Rodina, a mother like Williams, reached the fourth round at Wimbledon as a qualifier last month.
   On Wednesday, Williams is scheduled to play No. 101 Carina Witthoeft of Germany, and Stephens is set to meet No. 134 Anhelina Kalinina, a qualifier from Ukraine. Kalinina won the 2015 Sacramento Challenger at age 18.
   Meanwhile, all three men with NorCal connections who played today lost.
   Andreas Seppi, a 34-year-old Italian, topped 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Sam Querrey, a 30-year-old San Francisco native, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-2, 2-1, retired on a hot, humid day. David Ferrer of Spain and qualifiers Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and Kathinka Von Deichmann of Liechtenstein also quit in their matches.
   No. 11 seed John Isner, 6-foot-10 (2.08 meters), pounded 20 aces in a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4 victory over fellow American Bradley Klahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate. Isner, 33, is having the best year of his career, winning his first Masters 1000 title in Miami and reaching his first major semifinal at Wimbledon.
   Red-hot Ugo Humbert of France outclassed fellow qualifier Collin Altamirano, 22, of Sacramento 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3. Humbert, 20, has reached the final of his last three tournaments, all hardcourt Challengers. He lost to Klahn in Gatineau, Canada, and to Canadian Peter Polansky in Granby, Canada, but defeated Spaniard Adrian Menendez-Maceiras in Segovia, Spain.

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