Heather Watson lost, but somehow she won.
Even though she took the junior girls title here in 2009, she has not won at Flushing Meadows in two previous US Opens – going out to top-10 players in Maria Sharapova and Li Na – but she returned to New York this year with a lot of baggage, so taking a set off the in-form player of the women's Tour, Simona Halep, was a considerable achievement for someone whose programme has been shredded by the debilitating effects glandular fever.
While she went shot for heavy shot off the ground with the tiny Romanian – who is clearly playing above her world ranking of 19 in recent weeks and months – her serve let her down in the second set and, in the home stretch, she could not quite sustain the effort. Halep went through to the second round after an absorbing battle over two hours, winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
They traded breaks at the start and there was little in the first set until Watson's persistence earned her three break points in the eight game, and she broke for 5-3. She dropped serve again but Halep, serving to stay in the set, double-faulted to hand Watson set point and she grabbed the chance, her first glimmer of success on a tennis court for a little while.
The second was another tight struggle, but when Watson had a rash of double-faults mid-term, Halep seized the opportunity and broke again, going to take the set in 49 minutes.
Watson faded at the start of the third, as Halep raced to a 3-0 lead and, while a break-back in the fourth game gave the Guernsey player her hope, her revival did not last long. As the light faded out on Court 11, so did Watson's chances. She held for 2-5 but a return long by Watson wrapped it up.
Halep is a fine player, good enough to beat Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova back-to-back in New Haven at the weekend and a bigger threat to the women's draw than some might have imagined. Only Serena Williams has won more matches this year – and this was one of Halep's toughest victories.
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