Andy Murray came close to completing an incredible US Open upset before eventually falling to No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets in the first round.
Earlier on Monday, Simona Halep overcame one of the toughest first-round assignments of the tournament, beating Montreal champion Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-6(3) to advance at Flushing Meadows.
Joining Halep in the second round were fellow major champions Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Barbora Krejcikova, Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens, the latter overcoming Madison Keys in a rematch of their 2017 US Open final.
Men’s rising stars Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud and Felix Auger-Aliassime all won their opening-round matches, while American wildcard Brandon Nakashima upset veteran countryman John Isner in straight sets.
Night session: Osaka, Sabalenka, Medvedev advance
Defending champion Naomi Osaka made an emphatic return to Arthur Ashe Stadium with a straight-sets win over Marie Bouzkova.
The No.3 seed saved all eight break points she faced and struck 34 winners to beat the Czech 6-4 6-1, and has now won 16 consecutive matches at Grand Slam tournaments.
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka played her first-round match at the same time at Louis Armstrong Stadium, missing a match point in the second set before refocusing to defeat Nina Stojanovic 6-4 6-7(4) 6-0; Sabalenka next plays Roland Garros semifinalist Tamara Zidansek.
It was smoother sailing for men’s second seed Daniil Medvedev, who followed Osaka onto Ashe and dominated Richard Gasquet 6-4 6-3 6-1, ending the match with some jaw-dropping returns to notch his ninth win from his past 10 outings.
Roberto Bautista Agut was similarly efficient against Nick Kyrgios, dispatching the Australian 6-3 6-4 6-0 in their highly-anticipated round one clash.
Tsitsipas survives Murray, Rublev & Ruud cruise
Durind the day session, Murray sought a first top-five win since November 2016 and could well have beaten third-ranked Tsitsipas in straight sets, given he held two set points at 6-4 in the second-set tiebreak and won the first and third sets.
But by not converting those chances and ultimately losing the second set, the match became an increasingly long and physical battle in which Tsitsipas eventually got on top.
The Greek, who arrived in New York after semifinal finishes at the Toronto and Cincinnati Masters, will take on Adrian Mannarino for his 50th match win of 2021.
Fifth seed Rublev beat 42-year-old qualifier Ivo Karlovic, who was playing in his last tournament.
Rublev, a finalist in Cincinnati, beat the towering Croat 6-3 7-6(3) 6-3 to reach the second round, where he was joined by several fellow seeds.
They included No.8 seed Ruud – who beat Japan’s Yuichi Sugita 6-3 6-2 6-2 to cement his 16th win from his past 18 matches – and 12th seed Auger-Aliassime, who survived an intense four-set battle with Russian qualifier Evgeny Donskoy.
Also advancing were seeds Diego Schwartzman (11), Grigor Dimitrov (15), Cristian Garin (16) and Dan Evans (24); Schwartzman’s 7-5 6-3 6-3 triumph over Ricardas Berankis will see him next take on 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson, a five-set winner over Jiri Vesely.
But No.29 seed Cameron Norrie was unable to join them on the winners' list, falling 6-4 6-4 6-3 to highly-rated Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz, who next plays Arthur Rinderknech.
Upset of the day
Nakashima, meanwhile, had lost to Isner in the ATP Atlanta final earlier in the US summer hard-court season.
But the 20-year-old avenged that defeat with a 7-6(7) 7-6(6) 6-3 win over the 19th seed at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Isner had won 13 of his past 16 hard-court matches and was tipped to thrive on the quick, lively courts at Flushing Meadows, but the 84th-ranked Nakashima – who had only recently cracked the top 100 – generated five break point chances, and converted two, against his big-serving opponent to advance.
Nakashima next faces Slovakian qualifier Alex Molcan, aiming to reach the third round at a major tournament for the first time.
Halep leads major champions into round two
A calf tear ruled Halep out of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, before a small adductor tear forced her to withdraw from the recent event in Cincinnati.
Her inactivity saw her fall outside the top 10 for the first time since 2014 – she is currently seeded 12th – and she looked to have suffered more misfortune when she drew Giorgi, the world No.36 who narrowly missed being seeded herself.
But she played impressively when challenged late in the match, winning the final five points of the tiebreak to notch just her second victory since early May.
Muguruza, who has historically struggled in New York unlike at the other three majors, also drew a tough first-round opponent in Donna Vekic, and sneaked through in two tiebreaks to set up a second-round meeting with former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic.
It was perhaps the toughest of draws for 2017 champion Stephens, forced to play good friend Keys and stretched to a final-set tiebreak before prevailing 6-3 1-6 7-6(7).
Stephens next play No.21 seed Coco Gauff, who battled hard to subdue Magda Linette 5-7 6-3 6-4, closing out victory with an athletic backhand volley winner.
No.26 seed Danielle Collins belted 41 winners in a 6-2 6-4 win over Carla Suarez Navarro, who was playing the last singles tournament of her career after overcoming a battle with cancer.
Also advancing was 16th seed Kerber – who recovered from 3-5 down in the final set to beat Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska 3-6 6-4 7-6(3) – while fellow Grand Slam winners Krejcikova and Azarenka posted straight-sets wins, as did No.5 seed Elina Svitolina.
Stat of the day
Azarenka, last year’s US Open finalist, trailed Czech Tereza Martincova 4-1 in the opening set before roaring through 11 straight games to post a 6-4 6-0 victory.
It has been a somewhat lean season for the Belarusian, who has not appeared in a tournament final and who has failed to progress beyond the quarters at her last four events.
But Flushing Meadows is a happy hunting ground for the former world No.1 – she is a three-time US Open finalist – and she improved her tournament record to 41-13 with her first-round win on Monday.
Tweet of the day
Murray is such a legend. However, this turns out, the fact that he’s going after the number 3 player in the world after all of it is insane. He literally has a metal hip ….. respect— andyroddick (@andyroddick) August 30, 2021
Quotes of the day
“I've said it a lot over this last few months, that I know I'm capable of playing that tennis. I need to spend time on the court, getting the chance to play against these guys. Ultimately when I get on the court with them, need to prove it. I guess tonight I proved some things to a certain extent. Overall I did well tonight, but I'm really, really disappointed, really disappointed after that, frustrated, all those things. Really disappointed.”
- Andy Murray, who led Stefanos Tsitsipas by two-sets-to-one before falling in five.
"First match at 11:00 was not good for my mind before, but I knew that she's with a lot of confidence coming after a big victory in Montreal. I knew she's playing super fast and deep, so I had to be strong on my legs. I'm struggling with the legs lately. But I think I have been very positive on court. I have been very confident that I have the game to play a good match, and I believed that I have a chance. So I fought for it, and I'm pleased with the way I handled the important moments."
- Simona Halep, after defeating Camila Giorgi.
“Obviously I know that today it's gonna be the possibility of my last match, but I really enjoy. I mean, I just try to live like normal. I lost, but this year for me was a gift, you know. Last year on these dates, I don't know if I can be here one more time or not, and I'm here. I'm happy for that.”
- Carla Suarez Navarro, who played her last singles tournament at the US Open.
“I feel like I have always came super prepared and for whatever reason, I don't know, my game didn't click. But I don't think about that now. Every year I come, I'm like, You know what? That doesn't matter. It's a new year. Nobody remembers, nobody cares what happened in the past. I guess I just have to go through the first rounds, which I didn't manage to do before, I guess, and then get the confidence in playing in these courts.”
- Garbine Muguruza on playing at the US Open, the only major tournament at which she has not passed the fourth round.
Day 2: Ones to watch
Novak Djokovic begins his US Open campaign against teenaged qualifier Holger Rune under lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, as he chases an historic calendar-year Grand Slam.
The top seed this season has already won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles and is seeking a fourth straight major at Flushing Meadows – a triumph which would deliver him a men’s record 21st major singles title.
Djokovic’s fellow world No.1 Ash Barty precedes him on Ashe, with the reigning Wimbledon champion taking on Vera Zvonareva, a US Open finalist 11 years ago.
Rounding out the Ashe schedule is No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu, whose last trip in New York ended with her lifting the trophy in 2019; she faces a tricky opener against Swiss Viktorija Golubic.
In-form seeds Karolina Pliskova and Belinda Bencic play back-to-back at Louis Armstrong Stadium while the Grandstand court features a stellar line-up headlined by Matteo Berrettini, Iga Swiatek and Petra Kvitova.