The pressure built slowly on this already oppressively hot Monday at the US Open, changing the narrative unfolding in Louis Armstrong Stadium. Top-ranked and top-seeded Simona Halep was awarded the honor of playing the inaugural match in the brand-new stadium, but things went sideways from the very start.
She smashed her racket into the court twice, and just as quickly straightened up and calmly walked toward her chair, wiping her brow with her wristband.
Pressure, it seems, is an unavoidable fact of life for Halep. And it comes in different forms. Since winning the French Open in June, she has repeatedly asserted that “the pressure is off.” It might be true in one sense; she now has her major, after two near misses. But the mental challenges for the top players at a Grand Slam don’t evaporate quite so easily.
There’s also this matter of first-round jitters, as Halep once again learned when she became the first top women’s seed to lose in the first round of the US Open in the Open era, falling to Kanepi 6-2, 6-4 in a brisk 76 minutes “It’s always about the nerves,” Halep said afterward. “Even when you are there on top, you feel the same nerves. You are human, so it’s the same thing.”