Simona Halep makes winning return to Grand Slam action at US Open

Romanian star missed French Open, Wimbledon and Olympics with a calf injury

Romania’s  Simona Halep reacts to winning a point in her first-round win over Camila Giorgi of Italy at the US Open in Flushing Meadows. Photograph: Jason Szenes/EPA

Romania’s Simona Halep reacts to winning a point in her first-round win over Camila Giorgi of Italy at the US Open in Flushing Meadows. Photograph: Jason Szenes/EPA

 

Simona Halep, who missed three of the year’s biggest events while recovering from a calf injury, delivered a statement win on her return to Grand Slam action when she beat Italian Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-6 (3) on Monday to reach the US Open second round.

The former world number one, who is seeded 12th in New York, relied on a solid serving game to get by the in-form Giorgi, who won the biggest title of her career two weeks ago in Montreal.

Halep twice failed to serve out the win but the Romanian, staring at the possibility of having to play a decider, regained control of the match and breezed through the tiebreak.

“At 5-4 [in the second set] I felt the pressure. Because I don’t have many matches, I felt sick a little bit because I knew actually I have to finish the match because in three sets would be a little bit tougher,” said Halep.

“But, you know, I’m happy that I can see my serve improving, and I can win some easy points with it. So I have been looking for it many years, but now finally I can feel it stronger.”

Halep missed the French Open, Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics due to an injury suffered in Rome and then, in only her second tournament back, was forced to withdraw from a US Open tune-up event in Cincinnati due to a right thigh injury.

The 29-year-old Romanian was considered to be one of the more vulnerable seeds in New York but showed she was up for the task at hand in the day’s first match on Grandstand.

Halep, a two-times Grand Slam champion whose best US Open finish came in 2015 when she reached the semi-finals, won 83 per cent of her first-serve points, fired down six aces and faced just two break points during the 93-minute match.

“I knew she had confidence, I knew she’s playing super fast and deep, so I had to be strong on my legs. I’m struggling with the legs lately,” said Halep.

“But, you know, I think I have been very positive on court. I have been very, you know, like confident that I have the game to play a good match, and I believed that I have a chance.

“So I fought for it, and I’m pleased with the way I handled the important moments.”

Sloane Stephens hits a return to Madison Keys during their first-round match. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA
Sloane Stephens hits a return to Madison Keys during their first-round match. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

Next up for Halep will be Slovakian lucky loser Kristina Kucova. Former champion Sloane Stephens overcame best friend Madison Keys’s aggressive play to secure a 6-3 1-6 7-6 (7) win in the first round.

The 2017 winner quickly took control of the first set on Arthur Ashe Stadium, putting up a strong defensive performance to fend off three break points as Keys committed 15 unforced errors.

But Keys roared back in the second, winning all of her first-serve points and fired off 11 winners compared to just three from Stephens, who struggled to find her power.

After trading breaks in the third set, they headed into a tiebreak, where Keys’s unforced errors proved to be her undoing. After fending off two match points, she shouted in frustration as she whacked the ball into the net to set up a third.

It was the first time the pair had met on Ashe since Stephens defeated her in the final four years ago for her first – and thus far only – Major title.

“We’re both looking to get back that form we had in 2017. Maddy is my best friend on tour and it is always difficult for us but we’re always able separate the match and come out and compete,” said Stephens.

“I thought today we played a really solid match.”

Women’s first-round results

Sloane Stephens (USA) bt Madison Keys (USA) 6-3 1-6 7-6 (9-7), Anhelina Kalinina (Ukr) bt Mayar Sherif (Egy) 4-6 6-1 6-1, (26) Danielle Collins (USA) bt Carla Suarez Navarro (Esp) 6-2 6-4, (9) Garbine Muguruza (Esp) bt Donna Vekic (Cro) 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5), (12) Simona Halep (Rom) bt Camila Giorgi (Ita) 6-4 7-6 (7-3), Kaia Kanepi (Est) bt (31) Yulia Putintseva (Kaz) 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2, Kristina Kucova (Svk) bt Ann Li (USA) 7-5 6-1, Leylah Annie Fernandez (Can) bt Ana Konjuh (Cro) 7-6 (7-3) 6-2, (19) Elena Rybakina (Kaz) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich (Blr) 6-2 6-3, (32) Ekaterina Alexandrova (Rus) bt Sara Errani (Ita) 6-3 6-2, Kaja Juvan (Slo) bt Heather Watson (Brit) 6-1 6-4

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