Why Simona Halep And Other Top Seeds Are In Tight Spot At US Open

NEW YORK -- Simona Halep knew she was in trouble after losing the first set of her opening-round match at the US Open to unseeded Danielle Rose Collins on Monday. The No. 2 seed had known nothing about Collins, she'd never met the American wild card on tour, and there she was looking up to the four corners of Arthur Ashe Stadium at high noon feeling overwhelmed.

Frustrated with her forehand, Halep smacked the last shot of the set out intentionally and hit the ladies room during the changeover. There, she gave herself a pep talk.

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Simona Halep made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon and the finals at the French, but she found herself in a battle in the first round at the US Open.

"I said, 'Look, you have nothing to lose,'" Halep said.

Not exactly true, but it did the trick. Halep, who reached the Wimbledon semifinals and the French Open final, emerged refreshed enough to upend Collins 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-2.

"It's really difficult, the first round of the tournament," Halep said. "Today was a big challenge for me because I played the first match of this tournament on center court. It's not easy to manage the situation."

Halep was not the only high seed who struggled in the first round of the women's draw. No. 6 Angelique Kerber needed three sets to get by Ksenia Pervak 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. No. 18 Andrea Petkovic struggled before she beat Ons Jabeur 7-6 (7), 1-6, 6-3. Even tour veteran and No. 19 seed Venus Williams, who has had a rebound summer, needed three sets to take out Kimiko Date-Krumm 2,6, 6-3, 6-3.

Petkovic explained that there is such a huge stigma when a seeded player loses in the first round: It's a gimme, a 2-inch putt against (generally) an unknown. Losing at that moment costs a player tens of thousands of dollars in prize money and possibly more in terms of visibility. Winning a smaller tour event is important, but the Grand Slam events are when the world is watching.

"When I look around, no matter how high they are seeded or how good they are or how experienced they are, the first two days everybody is so nervous and no one wants to lose," Petkovic said. "And that's the problem: nobody wants to lose. But you should go out there to win, right? That's the biggest problem, everybody is so terrified of losing in the first round that it's somehow difficult for the favorites."

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Danielle Rose Collins got a wild card into the US Open and then took second-seeded Simona Halep on a wild ride.

That was certainly the case for Halep. The 22-year-old Romanian didn't break into the top 10 until January, but her ascent has been quick and decisive. Last year she was the No. 21 US Open seed and reached the round of 16 before losing to Flavia Pennetta. She arrives at Flushing Meadows as the No. 2 seed -- and being a favorite is a new challenge for her.

"It's not easy," Halep said. "It's a little bit of pressure. I can say more pressure because everyone is telling me that I have a chance to win this title. But still I'm very far. I have to take match by match and to see if I can win more matches here. Every match like today was tough, and every match is tough here."

When everyone is telling you that you can win the US Open, that has to give you a little vertigo. Halep has reached that height, but she hasn't quite adjusted to the change in altitude.

Luckily for her, she can look back on her first-round jitters from the safety of the second round.

"I believe in my chance, but still I want to take match by match," Halep said. "We'll see."

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