NEW YORK—Shortly after the men’s Wimbledon runner-up went down on Day 3 at the U.S. Open, the women’s French Open champion made her own early exit. But Garbine Muguruza’s desultory performance against Anastasija Sevastova wasn’t a result of cramps, the affliction that contributed to fifth-seeded Milos Raonic’s second-round defeat. The third-seeded Spaniard could only wish the explanation for it was that easy.
Muguruza racked up errors on this evening—38 in all, each seemingly worse than the last. They had little rhyme or reason for their occurrences, and it wasn’t as if Sevastova, the 48th-ranked Latvian who actually retired from the game three years ago, was hitting the cover off the ball, or forcing Muguruza well outside of her baseline comfort zone. In fact, both women struck 22 more unforced errors than winners in this break-filled content. (There were 12 in all.)
But Muguruza failed to sufficiently generate her own pace and looked lost among the thousands of fans seated around her inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. She took an early break-of-serve lead, was broken and failed to recover in time to take the first set—and then completely capitulated in the second. In one stretch, Muguruza dropped 15 of 20 points en route to a 4-0 deficit. When the two exchanged breaks and Sevastova served at 5-1, it seemed that only nerves could do her in. They very nearly did.
As poorly as some of Muguruza’s shots that put her in this precarious position were, Sevastova may have topped them when the finish line was within her grasp. Muguruza made a habit of finding the net in the second set, but Sevastova hit long—way long—at the most crucial moments, including match points. From 1-5, she was broken twice and found herself returning serve with the most tenuous of 5-4 leads.
It was, in my opinion, a must-win game for Sevastova, even though Muguruza was serving. Muguruza obliged, donating a pair of points and falling behind 0-40. On her third match point, Sevastova’s inside-out forehand landed inches wide. In some ways, it felt like a small victory, considering the nerves that enveloped her in prior games.
On her next chance, Sevastova went for it again, and this time she made it. With a well-placed forehand into the opposite corner, the 26-year-old became the third player to oust Muguruza from a major before the fourth round in 2016.
“I have to solve my head, my self, all the thoughts—what could be, what could not,” said Sevastova in a match that defied explanation. “I am happy it went well.”
What brought her back to the sport?
“This one, this stage,” she said after nearly uttering a four-letter word on live television. “I mean, look at that. It cannot get bigger.”
The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and now Muguruza—who has to solve her head—is the highest seed eliminated from the U.S. Open.