NEW YORK, NY, USA - Though she reached the semifinals of the US Open back in 2015 - and pushed Serena Williams to three thrilling sets one year later in the quarterfinals - World No.1 Simona Halep admitted something is missing for her when it comes to the final Grand Slam of the season.
"I never play my best tennis here, even if I've done quarterfinals, semifinals," she said after a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Kaia Kanepi. "I feel like my game is not at its best, at the best level. But always I fight for every match."
Halep became the first No.1 seed to lose in the first round of the US Open, and the first since Angelique Kerber at last year's Roland Garros. For both women, the loss came at their least favorite major tournament.
"Maybe it's the noise in the crowd, the city is busy," she said. "It's everything together. I'm a quiet person, so maybe I like the smaller places.
"I've done great results here. I'm not complaining. I just mean that I don't really feel my game at 100% when I step on the court here. Maybe in the future it's gonna change something, I will change something and it will be better."
The reigning Roland Garros champion endured a heartbreaking defeat in this very round last year in Flushing Meadows, falling to former No.1 Maria Sharapova in three tough sets. This summer had nonethless been promising after a title run at the Coupe Rogers and a runner-up finish at the Western & Southern Open.
"I was tired, but positive tired because I played so many matches in Montréal and Cincinnati. So I didn't feel pressure of wining a Grand Slam, and feeling the pressure of 'How is it gonna be now?' No, I didn't feel that.
"Today was not my day; the balance was not there. I couldn't feel myself strong on the court to win this match. I was actually practicing okay yesterday and two days ago, but that's it. It's just a day, and it's a bad day for me. She deserved to win because she was playing better than me today."
The first round has been a particular stumbling block for the Romanian, who has made it into the second week in all but three of her last 20 Grand Slam appearances after passing that initial hurdle.
"I think every player is struggling a little bit in the first round. It's always about the nerves. Even when you are there at the top, you feel the same nerves. You are human. So it's the same thing.
"For me, it's more difficult in the first rounds, because I'm more emotional. That's why I need a good start. But I'm not scared about that. I have won so many first rounds and also tournaments after tough first rounds. I'm not focusing on that, but sometimes can happen, and today happened. It's nothing. It's not a drama, but it's tough."
Still, Halep heads to the Asian Swing with her No.1 ranking intact, with plenty of opportunities to build on her lead ahead of her fifth straight appearance at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
"It's tough to lose. Sometimes I have tears. It's normal. But now I feel better. I feel that it just was a bad day, and I will move on fast."
Asked to elaborate on why she feels extra stress to start a tournament, Halep shrugged.
"I'm born like this, I think."