Tennis fan favourites Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka have both suffered major setbacks before the US Open after a day of drama at the Cincinnati Masters.
Both women bowed out in the first round in Cincinnati, with Osaka going down in straight sets and Gauff suffering an injury that leaves her US Open hopes hanging in the balance.
Gauff called for a trainer to check out a leg complaint when she was 5-3 up in the opening set against Marie Bouzkova and looking likely to clinch the opening stanza.
However, the 18-year-old's movement was clearly hampered and Bouzkova capitalised to storm back and claim the opener 7-5.
Gauff bravely tried to play through the pain but lasted just one game into the second set, before being forced to retire from the match.
Bouzkova embraced her shattered opponent in a classy moment of concern, before Gauff left the court in tears.
Fans were also shattered to see Osaka suffer another first round defeat, crashing out in straight sets against China's Zhang Shuai, who prevailed 6-4 7-5.
Japan's four-time major winner has struggled with injuries and form in 2022, and her latest setback does not bode well for her US Open hopes.
It was only Osaka's third tournament back from an Achilles injury and it has been a stuttering return to action for the two-time US Open champion.
She retired with lower back pain in the opening round in Toronto last week.
The drama involving Osaka and Gauff left tennis fans devastated for the pair on social media.
Horrible scenes on Grand Stand as Coco Gauff retires 5-7 0-1 down to Marie Bouzkova.
Was leading 5-3 when she rolled her ankle and lost five games in a row. She's been in tears at moments since it happened, really hope she recovers in time for the US Open. #CincyTennis
— Yasmin Syed (@yasminstefsyed) August 16, 2022
🙏 hopefully nothing serious! Speedy recovery to Coco, it was sad to watch her hurt😥
— evija87 | (@evija87) August 16, 2022
Naomi Osaka really fell off. Really sad.
— 444✨ (@iScream_Man) August 16, 2022
— Robin Dunford (@hereford1terra) August 16, 2022
Absolutely gutted for coco gauff!
Right decision to retire so close to the @usopen
— Venus Williams Fandom (@QueenVee_Fandom) August 16, 2022
Naomi Osaka loses 6-4, 7-5 to Zhang Shuai, and it was...not pretty. Some serious problems with Osaka's game rn, starting with the return (and including the fh), & it's hard to imagine how she'll fix them in time for USO.
Not sure she'll be able to salvage much from this season.
— Musab (@Musab_Abid) August 16, 2022
Naomi Osaka to be unseeded at the US Open following 1R exit at Cincinnati Open https://t.co/AdDHsoLd9q
— Tennis Tracker (@TrackerTennis) August 16, 2022
I can’t imagine her winning the US Open this year, especially unseeded. When on she can be anyone but I don’t think she’d win facing a high ranked player early.
— RicoG (@AmazingRico87) August 16, 2022
Not to be dramatic or anything but I'm not sure if the tennis fan in me could survive a day in which Naomi Osaka, Venus Williams and Serena Williams all lose...
— Scott Barclay (@BarclayCard18) August 16, 2022
— TennisAtlantic (@TennisAtlantic) August 16, 2022
For Zhang, doubles champion in Cincinnati last year, it was her first singles win at the event since 2014.
"Naomi she is amazing but I don't know she is maybe not really feeling good today," said Zhang. "But for sure today - not her best today."
In Tuesday's first match on Centre Court, Osaka made a sluggish start double-faulting to gift Zhang a break on her opening serve.
That was all the help Zhang needed as she went on to take the first set.
The 33-year-old quickly gained the upper hand in the second with an early break to go ahead 2-1 as her Japanese opponent continued to misfire.
With Zhang serving for the match at 5-4, Osaka finally secured an elusive break to level the set only for her opponent to immediately break back and regain control.
Serving for the match a second time, Zhang did not squander the opportunity again, clinching victory with an ace.
Naomi Osaka reeling after another first round exit
Osaka got her serve working as she fired down 10 aces but not much else, with the four-time Grand Slam winner piling up 29 unforced errors and converting just one of four break chances.
The last time Osaka lost back-to-back opening round matches at tournaments was in 2018 when she suffered the same fate in Canada and Cincinnati in 2018.
Osaka famously went on to win the US Open crown that year, although if the Japanese star is to repeat the feat this year, she will have to do so as an unseeded player.
Zhang next meets Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, who was a 6-4 7-5 winner over 13th-seeded Canadian Leylah Fernandez, last year's US Open runner-up.
Elsewhere, Venus Williams joined Osaka and Gauff on the first round scrapheap, after the 42-year-old crashed out against 14th seed Karolina Pliskova.
The two former world No.1s were facing off for the first time in five years and Pliskova scored her third win in four attempts against Williams.
The older of the Williams sisters showed glimpses of her former brilliance in a hard-fought opening set, before being overpowered by Pliskova as the Czech sealed a 7-5 6-1 win.
Meantime, Romania's Sorana Cirstea knocked out No. 12 seed Belinda Bencic 6-2 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 in a contest which lasted two hours and 38 minutes.
Belgium's Elise Mertens brushed aside Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina 6-1 6-1 to set up a second-round date with Pliskova.
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