Casper Ruud's quest for a first Grand Slam and the No.1 ranking in the world will go on after his shock loss to unheralded American Jenson Brooksby at the Australian Open.
The Norwegian second seed followed top-ranked Rafael Nadal out of the tournament, the first time since the Australian Open 21 years ago when the top two seeds have exited a Grand Slam before round three.
Ruud's departure completes a purge of the big boys in the bottom quarter of the draw which is now wide open and set to throw up a shock semi-finalist.
|What||2023 Australian Open|
|Where||Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia|
|When||Monday 16th January - Sunday 29th January, 2023|
|How to watch||Eurosport, bet365’s Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Men's singles: Novak Djokovic 20/21, Daniil Medvedev , Holger Rune 7/1, Stefanos Tsitsipas 11/1, Jannik Sinner 12/1, Felix Auger Aliassime 16/1|
Ruud was beaten 6-3 7-5 6-7 6-2 by Brooksby and had no excuses. Indeed, he didn't offer any.
The Norwegian, last year's French Open and US Open runner-up, did suggest he had been feeling a stomach strain but was absolutely not hiding behind that as a factor in his loss.
Indeed, he was never going to stop battling despite any pain and despite not playing well. He bravely fended off three match points in the third-set tiebreak but had no answer to the impressive Brooksby in the fourth.
The 22-year-old Californian, making his debut in Melbourne, reached a career-high 33 last year en route to reaching the final in Atlanta in July but he has rarely given any hints that he's got the game to go deep in a slam.
His win over Ruud set up an all-American third round dust-up against Tommy Paul with Brooksby rated 1/1.
He is into 66/1 to win the tournament. Of the 32 players left in the tournament, eight are from the United States with five of them in the bottom quarter.
Ruud was always going to take time out after the Australian Open having huffily declared the schedule is too intense.
The Norwegian, one of the busier players on tour, gave the strongest hint even before losing his first game to Laszlo Dere at the Auckland Open before the Australian Open, that we wouldn't see him again before Indian Wells in early March.
It's unlikely his early exit in Melbourne will alter his rota, indeed – presuming his injury is just a minor one – it could well work massively in his favour going into his preferred clay-court campaign.
Ruud won three times in 2022 – in Argentina, Geneva and Gstaad. All three were on clay.
Of his nine ATP titles, eight were on clay and then of course there was last year's near miss at the French Open where he got to the final where he was taught a lesson by Nadal.
Nadal, incidentally, is likely to be out of action for as long as Ruud, though for different reasons.
The big winner from Ruud's exit is everyone else in what was his quarter of the draw where the highest-ranked of the eight players standing is Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut, the 24th seed.
Ruud has been joined on the exit sheet in his quarter by Taylor Fritz (12th seed), Alexander Zverev (12, Matteo Berrettini (13) and Diego Schwartzman (23).
The octet left in the bottom section include Aussie wildcard Alexei Popyrin, the world No.120, and a lucky loser, Michael Mmoh from the US, one of five Americans left contesting the most open of quarters.
The winner of that quarter will be in the semis and seeded to meet Novak Djokovic, the 11/10 tournament favourite.
Djokovic was quids-in before the tournament had started with Nick Kyrgios, the biggest danger in his quarter, withdrawing.
But top-tenners Andrey Rublev and Holger Rune are still lurking – Rune has yet to drop a set – while Djokovic's backers would have been more than a little concerned to see their man take a medical time out during his four-set win over Enzo Couacaud.