Coco survives shaky start, to face Stephens next

NEW YORK — Coco Gauff shook off a shaky stretch in her opening match before rallying for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Magda Linette on Monday in the opening round of the US Open.

The No. 21-seeded Gauff advanced to face 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in the second round.

She had hopes of doing it more easily after taking a 5-3 lead and serving for the first set. But Linette won the next six games to take the set and build a 2-0 lead in the second before the 17-year-old American regrouped.

“It almost brings me to tears,”Gauff said, “because I missed playing in front of this crowd so much.”

Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza, a pair of two-time Grand Slam champions who have had their difficulties in New York, also pulled out tough victories.

Stephens had perhaps the toughest match of them all, needing 2 hours, 10 minutes to edge Madison Keys 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (7) in a rematch of her victory in the 2017 final.

Arthur Ashe Stadium was far from filled for the start of that match, possibly because fans faced delays entering the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on the day they were allowed to return to the tournament.

Halep, who had consecutive first-round exits in the 2017 and 2018 US Opens, held off Camila Giorgi 6-4, 7-6 (3). She didn’t play in last year’s fan-less event.

“So for me it was normal to have the people in the stands and the noise that is always in the US Open,” Halep said. “I started to like it. I start to embrace these things. I had fun on court, and I liked some people that were screaming in Romanian also and in English.”

Muguruza, the No. 9 seed, advanced with a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) victory over Donna Vekic.

Carla Suarez Navarro was eliminated by No. 26 seed Danielle Collins 6-2, 6-4 a year after revealing she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Spaniard, who once was ranked as high as No. 6, announced last September that she would undergo six months of chemotherapy. Having previously planned to retire after last season, she instead returned from her treatment for the French Open, where she lost in the first round. She lost again in the first round at Wimbledon before winning a round at the Olympics.

Suarez Navarro said afterward it was her last singles match and that she was leaving happily.

“I lost, but this year for me was a gift, you know,” she said. “Last year on these dates, I don’t know if I can be here one more time or not, and I’m here.”

In other matches on Monday, three-time U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka beat Tereza Martincova 6-4, 6-0. Azarenka, seeded 18th, trailed 4-1 in the opening set before seizing control. She lost to Naomi Osaka in last year’s final after winning the opening set.

Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion seeded 16th, rallied to edge Dayana Yastremska 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The US Open tournament welcomed back spectators after being playing last year without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. The grounds were packed throughout the day and figured to be again at night when defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka played her first-round match.

But spectators complained of delays, which the U.S. Tennis Association said were largely caused by the time it took to inspect their bags.

“Patrons have brought an inordinate number of bags this year, all of which need to be searched,” the USTA said in a statement. “This becomes the main choke point for entry.”

The USTA added that it was exploring ways to improve this entry process for the remainder of the tournament, and that the checking for proof of vaccination required for entry this year was going smoothly and was not a major contributor to the delays.

Halep missed the French Open and Wimbledon — the two major tournaments she has won — with a left calf injury, and her return to Grand Slam tennis came at the one where she’s had her least success.

Her loss to Kaia Kanepi in 2018 was the first time the No. 1 seed lost in the first round of the US Open in the professional era. She acknowledged after that defeat that maybe the noise of New York just wasn’t her scene, and the sounds were back Monday with the stands again allowed to be filled to full capacity.

“I lost a few times in the first round here, so I got a little bit of the experience from those moments,” Halep said. “There is no other way. So I have to accept it. I have to like it and to be part of it.”

Long lines and big crowds were a readjustment for any players. Keys had to wait while serving midway through the second set of her match against Stephens as fans were late returning to their seats after a changeover.

Halep was in some danger again against Giorgi, an Italian who recently won a hard-court title in Montreal for the biggest victory of her career. The No. 12 seed was broken while serving for the match at 5-4 but recovered to win the final four points of the tiebreaker.

Muguruza has also won the French Open and Wimbledon, but the US Open is the only major where she hasn’t reached the quarterfinals. She was knocked out in the first round just two years ago.

But she steadied herself in both tiebreakers against Vekic, who reached the quarterfinals in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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