No. 5 seed Simona Halep continued the momentum she has built all summer hard-court season long, routing world No. 56 Kirsten Flipkens, 6-0, 6-2, in the first round on Tuesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Flipkens matched the 24-year-old Romanian’s ground strokes at times, but too often the veteran Belgian's slice backhands fell short and invited attack. Halep was relentless, pounding two-fisted backhands from every corner of the court to close out a first-set bagel in 24 minutes.
The second set was only a slight improvement for Flipkens. In her off-court interview, Halep admitted that nerves caused her only hiccup of the match: double-faulting away a match point at 5-0, 40-30 in the second set, and then spraying a backhand and forehand to put Flipkens on the scoreboard. The reprieve was short-lived, however, as Halep closed out the match with one of her 22 winners of the match (compared to only 11 for Flipkens) at precisely the one-hour mark.
Halep, whose run here to the Round of 16 in 2013 marked the first time she reached the second week at a Grand Slam tournament, has called the US Open “close to my heart.”
“The first round of the tournament is always tough, but I played my game today and it worked out in the end,” said Halep, who next faces either Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic or Daria Gavrilova of Australia. “I tried to just keep focused and finish the match.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Halep, who is making her seventh appearance at the US Open, came tantalizingly close to the title last year, falling to eventual champion Flavia Pennetta in the semifinals. The 2014 French Open finalist served notice that she is still a contender, claiming three of her 14 career titles this year (at Madrid, Bucharest and Montreal) and winning 13 straight matches from Wimbledon to Cincinnati until world No. 2 Angelique Kerber stopped her in the semifinals.
Flipkens, a 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist, was coming off a quarterfinal appearance at New Haven and a shock upset of No. 6 Venus Williams – her fifth career victory over a Top 10 player – at the Rio Olympics. She is still seeking the consistency that took her to a career-high world ranking of No. 13 in August 2013, and has now fallen in the first round of the US Open the last four years in a row.
THE QUESTION: Could admitting that she gets nervous give Simona Halep’s competitors an edge against her?