Venus Williams and US Open champion Sloane Stephens led a string of seeds sent tumbling out of the Australian Open on Monday in a calamitous day for Americans.
Williams, who lost in the final to sister Serena last year, was stunned by Swiss star Belinda Bencic, fresh from winning the Hopman Cup with Roger Federer.
The seven-time Grand Slam winner, in her 77th major, struggled against a player, who had never before beaten, her to go down 6-3, 7-5 and deprive the tournament of one of its biggest names.
It is the first time since 1997 that there will be neither of the Williams sisters in the second round, with Serena not playing after giving birth to her first child.
“I don’t think I played a bad match. She just played above and beyond,” said 37-year-old Williams said.
Also out of the opening Grand Slam of the year is American big-hitter CoCo Vandeweghe, the 10th seed and a semi-finalist last year.
She revealed she had been bedridden with flu for four days after slumping to Hungary’s Timea Babos 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.
With Stephens also sent packing, it was a bad day for the US, in stark contrast to the last Grand Slam of 2017, when they all made the semis at the US Open, leaving the women’s draw in Melbourne more unpredictable than ever.