US Open 2018: Defending champion Sloane Stephens knocked out by Anastasija Sevastova

Reigning champion Stephens too strong for Mertens in New York

Reigning champion Stephens too strong for Mertens in New York

Next up for the 28-year-old is the victor of the evening match between six-time champion Serena Williams and Czech eighth seed Karolina Pliskova.

Pliskova, the three-time WTA tour ace leader who briefly ascended to world number one past year, has surprised Williams before at the US Open, beating her to reach her first Grand Slam final in 2016.

With the heat, humidity and blazing sun combining to make conditions hazardous enough that organisers suspended junior matches, the scraps of shade on the massive Ashe court were invaluable.

Sevastova took five break points to Stephens' two, as Stephens simply seemed unable to find her footing throughout the match.

Stephens beat Sevastova in the same round previous year en route to her first Grand Slam title, but she missed numerous chances to grab an early lead in the rematch and could never get back into the match.

With temperatures hovering above 32 degrees Celsius, and the tournament's extreme heat policy in effect for a second consecutive day, Sevastova broke an error-prone Stephens to go 3-1 ahead and never looked back.

"I think it was very physical today and tough to play", Sevastova said.

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After a lackluster first-set effort (and a number of Sevastova's winning slice backhand drop shots) Stephens was broken in the second game of the second set, then earned a break back in the next game. Keys is now the only player remaining from the 2017 all-USA women's semifinal, with CoCo Vandeweghe, Venus Williams and now Stephens all being eliminated.

She earned the last of five breaks in the second set to take a 5-3 lead, and served it out on her third match point when a tired Stephens put a backhand into the net.

When asked to pick out the positives from her week in NY, she said: 'That I could have sh*t the bed in the first round, and that would have been really bad.

"I can be proud of a lot of things that happened the last couple, the matches that I played, so I'm not going to dwell on it".

But even though her first Grand Slam title defence did not work out as she envisioned, the experience will be invaluable to Stephens, who hopes to put in a strong finish to the season.

"Obviously defending a title is very hard". Just keep building. There's four more tournaments left. "I'm just going to try to play the rest of the season as hard as I can and hopefully have some more good results".

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