Emma Raducanu's US Open title defence ended in the first round on Tuesday after losing 6-3, 6-3 to Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.
Raducanu delivered one of the most remarkable triumphs in tennis history last year when she became the first qualifier to claim a Grand Slam title, winning 10 matches in New York without dropping a set to catapulting her career into the stratosphere and making her one of the most marketable athletes on the planet.
Twelve months ago, the British player arrived at her opening match a relative unknown with few expectations but on Tuesday the 19-year-old sometimes appeared to be carrying the weight of world on her shoulders.
Not only was Raducanu defending her one and only title but a massive 2,040 of her 2,756 ranking points. With those gone, the world No 11 will drop out of the top 70 and back having to qualify for some events or depend on wildcards.
But the loss, Raducanu said, has also brought aa level of freedom that will allow her to focus on her game and career without unrealistic expectations.
"Obviously really disappointing, really sad to leave here," Raducanu told a post-match press conference, her face partially hidden by a baseball cap pulled tight to her eyes. "But also, in a way happy because it's a clean slate.
"I'm going to drop down the rankings. Climb my way back up. In a way the target will be off my back slightly."
Raducanu endured a difficult first full year on Tour with injuries and poor form limiting her match wins, with each early exit bringing increased scrutiny.
Still just 19, Raducanu will now be able to grow into her career and if that means playing lower level events then that is what she will do.
"I can just start again," said Raducanu. "I don't know what my ranking will be. Probably pretty low down. I think it would be nice in a way to kind of just start over, start fresh. I think any player would be happy to win a tournament. I think it makes a massive difference no matter what the level is."
Raducanu got her defence off to a positive start breaking Cornet at the first opportunity but the French veteran, making a record 63rd consecutive Grand Slam appearance, immediately broke back.
The two players traded breaks a second time before Cornet broke Raducanu a third time to get in front 5-3 and then held serve to secure the 1-0 lead.
The task in front of Raducanu became a little more challenging after she called for the trainer between sets to deal with blisters on her right hand.
When Cornet broke to open the second the troubles mounted, but the Briton answered with a break of her own and a second to go up 3-1.
With the crowd at Louis Armstrong court in Raducanu's corner, the contest appeared headed for a decisive third set until Cornet shifted gears, sweeping the next five games to seal the victory.
"I think I'm just handling my emotions better - that's it," said Cornet, who takes on Czech Kateřina Siniakova in the second round. "I guess I'm getting old. I'm getting more mature. I'm 32 so it's better late than never I guess."
Naomi Osaka, whom Raducanu succeeded as US Open champion, is also out in the first round, the Japanese star going out to American Danielle Collins despite a blistering start.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, a winner at Flushing Meadows in 2018 and 2020, was beaten 7-6, 6-3 by 19th-seeded Collins in a battle of two big hitters.
Collins, finalist at this year's Australian Open, now advances to a second round clash with Spain's Cristina Bucsa.
The 28-year-old right-hander from Florida will head into that assignment brimming with confidence after showing great composure to put away Osaka on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Former world No 1 Osaka, whose ranking has fallen to 44 after an inconsistent year, made a smooth start with an early break to take a 3-0 lead. But Collins battled back into the match and took the first set after winning a hard-fought tie-break.
With both players producing some booming groundstrokes, the second set was a question of who would blink first.
Collins put herself on the threshold of victory after breaking Osaka for a 5-3 lead in the eighth game.
Osaka, 24, came within touching distance of securing the break of serve needed to keep the match alive after taking a 15-40 lead in the ninth game, but Collins rallied back to deuce and then seized victory on her first match point when Osaka hit a return long.