American teenage sensation Coco Gauff has been bundled out of the US Open on the opening day at Flushing Meadows in New York.
The star of the 2019 tournament, where she eliminated hero Venus Williams at the same stage, lost 6-3 5-7 6-4 to 31st seed Anastasija Sevastova.
In a ragged, scrappy affair packed with breaks, double faults and unforced errors, the 30-year-old Latvian made one fewer mistake, collecting her first success of 2020 on the fourth match point, when 16-year-old Gauff sent a timid return into the net.
It marked the first opening round Grand Slam exit for Gauff, a crowd favourite at Flushing Meadows before COVID-19 saw spectators banned from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
"I was just calm in the end," says Sevastova, a 2018 US Open semi-finalist. "Somehow I managed to be calm, and stayed there and took my chances.
"I love being here, even in the bubble. I love the atmosphere, even now it doesn't matter, I have just amazing memories from the years before.
"And finally I won a match."
After dropping the opening set, Gauff somehow managed to win the second, despite being broken three times, registering seven double faults and committing 16 unforced errors.
But when it mattered, the teenager showed far more composure than her higher-ranked opponent, who smashed her racquet, when Gauff broke her twice over the final four games and then held serve to level the contest.
The errors dropped and quality improved in a much tighter third set, with Sevastova getting the only break at 5-4 to clinch victory.
Meanwhile, former champion Angelique Kerber has returned to action for the first time in seven months, beat Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4 6-4 to reach the second round.
The 17th-seeded German, who entered the match without competing since the fourth round of the Australian Open, overcame a shaky start on serve and improved as the 88-minute match at Louis Armstrong Stadium wore on.
"It's not easy to play your first match after such a long time and it was my first match after Australia, so I'm really happy how I played for the first match," says Kerber.
"It's always a little bit different to play points - and especially a match - than playing just practice points, so I am happy how I did the transition to the match court now."
Kerber was sidelined with a leg injury before the COVID-19 outbreak forced a shutdown of global tennis in March and she did not compete in last week's warm-up event, played on the US Open site.
But despite the lack of recent competitive action, the 32-year-old former world No.1 needed only a handful of games to shake off the rust and never looked back, as she improved her career record against Tomljanovic to 2-0.
Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam champion who triumphed at Flushing Meadows in 2016, traded breaks with Tomljanovic through the first four games of the match and then found her footing.
The German southpaw converted all three break-point chances to pull ahead 5-4 and went on to serve out at love to grab the first set, when world No.59 Tomljanovic sent a forehand into the net.
In the second, Kerber quickly settled into a groove and broke her opponent twice, before sealing the win on her third match point, when Tomljanovic's forehand sailed long.
Earlier, top seed Karolina Pliskova beat Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina 6-4 6-0 to move into the second round, as the Czech seeks her first Grand Slam title.
Pliskova fired seven aces and smashed 26 winners, constantly winning points at the net in the first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I think my game was quite good for a first round," says Pliskova, the world No.3, who played in front of empty stands with crowd noise piped in, with the tournament being held without fans due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"For sure, I prefer to have people around me," she adds.
Croatia's eighth seed Petra Martic overcame a slow start to beat Czech Tereza Martincova 5-7 6-2 6-4.
France's 30th seed Kristina Mladenovic also advanced in straight sets, overcoming the challenge of American Hailey Baptiste to win 7-5 6-2.
Czech 12th seed Marketa Vondrousova became the first player to win a match at the US Open this year, after she beat Greet Minnen 6-1 6-4.
Vondrousova, 21, broke her Belgian opponent four times and fired 16 winners to wrap up the match in just 63 minutes to advance to the second round.
Sixth seed Petra Kvitova dispatched Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3 6-2 with a powerful display to reach the next round, while Estonia's Anett Kontaveit, seeded 14th, also advanced following a 5-7 6-2 6-2 victory over Danielle Rose Collins.
Reuters / Newshub.