For most seeded players in the U.S. Open, the opening matches are a chance to work out a few wrinkles, shake off some rust and become used to the swirling winds, the warm conditions and the speed of the courts. (Andy Murray survives early scare, reaches round 2)
All of that fell by the wayside for many players Monday. High seeds and big names instead fended off calamity in a stream of matches that turned out more adventurous than expected. (Australian teen Nick Kyrgios sends Mikhail Youzhny packing in 1st round)
At the head of that list was Andy Murray, who took a two-sets-to-none lead over Robin Haase of the Netherlands, only to find himself fighting relentless muscle cramps in his legs and back. Murray, seeded eighth and two years removed from winning his first Grand Slam title here, began twitching and grabbing various body parts in the third set. He paced in front of his chair instead of sitting during changeovers and did everything he could to keep himself in the match. (Novak Djokovic eases into 2nd round)
He finally did win, 6-3, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 7-5, as Haase seemed in nearly as much discomfort as Murray, although he was less demonstrative about it.
"I was in good position two sets up, and I started cramping in the third set," Murray said. "I didn't know whether to go for it in the third or conserve my energy for the fourth. It was tough, and I know Robin was feeling it as well. There were parts of that match that weren't particularly pretty to watch, but I'm just happy to get through."
Murray, normally one of the fittest players on tour, has had a tough season battling back from back surgery and has not won a tournament in more than a year. Still, a first-round match against an unseeded player and temperatures in the mid-80s are not usually things that would trouble him.
The unlikely trouble hardly stopped at Murray's match. No. 2 seed Simona Halep found herself fighting off a challenge from a U.S. college sophomore, and No. 5 Angelique Kerber needed nearly 2 1/2 hours to escape unseeded Ksenia Pervak, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seeded ninth and playing great tennis in the hardcourts season leading up to the Open, promptly dropped a set and needed a tiebreaker to win another in a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1 victory over Juan Monaco. (Sharapova knocks out former doubles partner Kirlenko)
Venus Williams, 34, seeded 19th but playing one of the few touring players older than she is - Kimiko Date-Krumm, 43 - started out by spraying errors all over the court before rallying to win, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, although not before needing help to deal with some pesky bees.
That victory required Williams to overcome 36 unforced errors, 19 of them in the first set. Eventually, she settled into her somewhat rejuvenated game, although nothing came easily in this match.
In the third set, both players were hounded by bees, enough that Williams called for help. The trespassing bee was then ushered away by a ball boy and ball girl armed with towels.
Asked what was more troublesome, the bee or Date-Krumm, Williams laughed: "That's a tough question. The bee was annoying, but Kimiko was tougher. She hits the ball like no one else on tour."
No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny discovered the chaotic theme of the day the hard way, losing in four sets to Nick Kyrgios, a 19-year-old Australian. But even though Kyrgios is not seeded at the Open, he is not an unknown quantity, having knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon to announce his presence as a dangerous player this summer.
Kyrgios takes full advantage of the energy of youth, relentlessly pushing the pace of the match, seemingly ready to play the next point before the last ball has stopped bouncing.
Kyrgios snatched the first two sets before wobbling. He became so frustrated he earned three code violations, one for hitting a ball nearly out of Court 17.
"I just comes from having high expectations most of the time," said Kyrgios, who would have defaulted the match with one more code violation. "I have been an emotional player most of my career. Maybe I will be able to manage it in the future."
Youzhny looked as if he might send the match to a fifth set, but Kyrgios righted himself and came back from a break down in the fourth to grab victory in a tiebreaker.
"I was struggling a little bit about that 2 1/2-hour mark, but I knew that if I hung in I would get that second wind where I could start playing good tennis again," Kyrgios said. "And that's what happened in the fourth set."
The same could be said for Halep, who seemed to be on the verge of coming unglued in the first set of her 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-2 victory over Danielle Rose Collins.
Halep could have been excused for overlooking Collins, who was playing in her first Open as the beneficiary of a wild card, which she earned with a surprise victory in the NCAA tournament as a sophomore at the University of Virginia. Collins, the No. 32 seed, marched through the draw to meet Lynn Chi of California in the final, and her straight-sets victory made her the first women's singles champion from the University of Virginia.
None of that seemed to matter as Collins battled Halep into a first-set tiebreaker, where Halep seemed to lose her composure as well as the set. After dumping several errors into the net in the tiebreaker, Halep took several big swipes with her racket, barely missing smashing it into the court.
"It's really difficult to be second seeded here," Halep said. "It's my first time and my best ranking and the best moment of my life, but it is difficult. There is a lot of pressure on me. People say I should win and I can win. I want to take match by match and see how far I can go in this tournament."
For Halep, a loss would have marred an otherwise spectacular year. She was following up her breakthrough in 2013, which hoisted her ranking to No. 11 and earned her the Women's Tennis Association's award for Most Improved Player. She started with a run to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, a trip to the final of the French Open, where she lost to Maria Sharapova, and a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon, where she lost to Eugenie Bouchard.
Halep turned her boiling point into positive motivation early in the second set, using her first break opportunity to swing the match in her favor. She pounced on a few short balls hit by Collins - the kind that unnerved Halep in the first set - and pounded them for clear winners. She needed only 33 minutes to win the second set, and followed by nearly as emphatic a victory in the third.
Even third-seeded Stan Wawrinka's straight-set victory was far from straightforward. Wawrinka got only 47 percent of his first serves in and converted just 4 of 12 break-point chances against 75th-ranked Jiri Vesely before winning, 6-2, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3).
"It was a really tough match," said Wawrinka, the Australian Open champion this year. "The first round here, it's never easy."
But some had it easier than others.
No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska needed only 47 minutes to advance past Sharon Fichman of Canada, 6-1, 6-0. Radwanska is trying to reverse a career of misfortune at the Open, where she has never advanced past the fourth round in eight previous tournaments and had a string of three straight years when she was bounced as early as the second round.
There were a few more first-round matches Monday that were over just after people realized they had started. No. 21 Sloane Stephens steamrollered Annika Beck of Germany, 6-0, 6-3, in 61 minutes. Kurumi Nara of Japan, the No. 31 seed, needed 59 minutes to rout Alexandra Wozniak of Canada, 6-2, 6-1.