World No.1 Simona Halep has crashed out of the US Open, going down in a shock 6-2 6-4 loss to unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi.
The Romanian, who broke her grand slam duck at the French Open in May, became the first ever female top seed to lose in the first round at Flushing Meadows in the professional era.
But there were no such problems for Serena Williams, who made an emphatic return to Flushing Meadows with a 6-4 6-0 victory over Poland’s Magda Linette.
The 23-time grand slam singles champion missed the tournament last year to give birth to daughter Olympia but needed only an hour and nine minutes to dispatch Linette at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It was great. It’s such a good feeling to be back out here,” said Serena.
“The first set was tight. Once I got settled, I started doing what I’m trying to do in practice, so it helped a lot. I think I’m getting there. I’ve been feeling really good in practice.”
But the big upset was Halep, who failed to sustain any kind of service rhythm with her usually stout defence proving no match for the powerful Kanepi’s bruising groundstrokes and deft drop shots on a hot and humid day.
“I have always loved being in New York,” said the 33-year-old Kanepi, twice a quarter-finalist at the tournament who has been ranked as high as world No.15.
“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.”
The world No.44 earned the first break when she launched a back-hand lob over Halep’s head to jump out to a 2-1 lead and went on to win five of the first six games while winning 80 per cent of her first serve points 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.
“Today I just lost,” Halep told reporters.
“I didn’t play great, but she played really well. I knew that she can play well here. She played quarter-finals last year,” she said.
“I didn’t find the balance today. I couldn’t play better, so that’s it.”
Venus Williams, meanwhile, moved into the second round by beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3 5-7 6-3 in a matchup of past US Open champions.
Williams, the No. 16 seed and a semifinalist last year at Flushing Meadows, could play younger sister Serena in the third round.