Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is back in NY for the first time in three years as a wild card after the birth of son Leo and then the custody battle that limited her travel, and she battled to a 6-3 7-5 victory over Viktoria Kuzmova. Across all Grand Slams, top seeds had lost in the first round only five times before Halep.
But the Romanian, who broke through for a first Grand Slam title at the French Open this year, had no answer for Kanepi's power. Making her 11th main draw appearance in Flushing Meadows, a year ago Kanepi completed the best result by a qualifier at U.S.
She got off to a slow start at Roland Garros this year, too, dropping her opening set, also by a 6-2 score, but ended up pulling out the victory there and adding six more to lift the trophy.
"It's always about the nerves", said Halep, who was beaten in the first round in NY by five-time major champion Maria Sharapova in 2017.
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The Estonian fired 26 winners to Halep's nine, cutting the rallies short and remorselessly punishing Halep's second serve. She could have played Serena or Venus Williams in the fourth round. "I like the weather: humid and hot".
Defending champion Sloane Stephens encountered late resistance but held on for a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Russian Evgeniya Rodina. She struggled throughout Monday's match with Kanepi and coughed up 28 unforced errors. She never lost control of the match, even in the second set when Halep appeared to get into more of a rhythm. I couldn't take that game, and then she served pretty well.
"She has been playing really well in USA lately, so I thought I just have to be aggressive and try to stay calm. Because normally, they cheer for the underdog", Kanepi said with a smile. I'm not complaining. I just mean that I don't really feel my game at 100% when I step on the court here.