It is likely to be anyone’s game in the women’s field at next week’s US Open, going by the string of upsets at the Western and Southern Open.
On Sunday, Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin, the top two seeds at the hard-court Grand Slam, both crashed out of the final warm-up event before Flushing Meadows.
Twenty-three time Major champion Serena Williams joined them at the exit door on Tuesday, going down 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 to Greek Maria Sakkari in the third round.
The former world No. 1, who is gunning for a record-equalling 24th Slam, was also stunned in the quarter-finals of the inaugural WTA Top Seed Open almost two weeks ago.
Having not played on the Tour before the Lexington tournament – February’s Fed Cup was the last time she competed – her second early exit in as many events comes as a big blow to her preparations for the second Slam of the year.
Likening her defeat to a toxic relationship, Williams, who will be one of the favourites in New York given a decimated field that has seen the likes of world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep and defending champion Bianca Andreescu all pull out over Covid-19 fears, said: “I literally put myself in this situation.
“You know, it’s like dating a guy that you know sucks. That’s literally what I keep doing out here. It’s like I have got to get rid of this guy. It just makes no sense. It’s frustrating.
“It was hard… I had so many opportunities to win and I have to figure that one out, like how to start winning those matches again. It was tough. There was no excuse.”
Williams, whose match fitness had been questioned, also admitted she was also struggling with cramps towards the end of the match.
“I started cramping but shouldn’t have been in that situation,” she added. “I don’t think that helps mentally.”
There were, however, no such issues for another former world No. 1, Naomi Osaka, who blasted eight aces past Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine in the 6-3, 6-1 victory.
The Japanese, who beat Williams in the 2018 US Open final for her maiden Slam, will be the one to watch when the event starts on Monday.
In the men’s draw, world No. 1 and 17-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic was barely tested in his third-round match as the Serb sailed past American Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-4 .