PARIS – Serena Williams suffered her earliest Grand Slam exit since 2014 when she crashed out of the French Open on Saturday, ending her bid to win a record-equalling 24th major, just hours after world number one Naomi Osaka also suffered a shock defeat.
Williams was beaten 6-2, 7-5 by US compatriot Sofia Kenin, who wasn’t even born when the American legend made her Paris debut in 1998, in the third round.
Top seed Osaka’s hopes of winning a third successive Grand Slam ended when she was knocked out by unheralded Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-2.
Their losses mean that 14 of the top 20 seeds in the women’s draw have failed to make the second week in Paris.
It was 37-year-old Serena’s earliest exit at the Slams since a third round loss to Alize Cornet at Wimbledon in 2014.
Three-time Roland Garros champion Williams was attempting to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors.
“She played really well, especially in the first set where she hit pretty much within an inch of the line all the time,” said Williams.
The America veteran, who played just one clay court match in Rome before suffering a knee injury in the run up to the French Open, said she had expected to progress further in Paris.
“I would have expected to have gotten past the the third round. If someone said I would only get this far, I’d have said they were a liar.
“I haven’t been on the court as much as I would have wanted to. It’s been a gruelling season.”
Kenin, the 20-year-old world number 35, will face eighth seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia for a place in the quarter-finals.
“There’s a lot of emotions now,” said the Russian-born player.
“Serena is such a great champion and I have all the respect for her.”
Williams, who has still to add to her majors collection since she returned to the tour after giving birth to her daughter, fired 30 winners and 34 unforced errors.
Osaka, the reigning US and Australian Open champion, said losing to 42nd-ranked Siniakova may have been a blessing in disguise.
“Losing is probably the best thing that could have happened,” said 21-year-old Osaka.
“I felt very tired. I had headaches, maybe that’s the stress.
“I felt there was a weight on me. This hasn’t been the happiest of times.”
Osaka was undone by a shocking 38 unforced errors as she finally ran out of luck in Paris having had to come back from a set down in her first two matches.
Elsewhere in the women’s draw, 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova of the United States reached her second successive fourth round at a Slam with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 win over Romania’s Irina Camelia Begu.
She will face Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova, ranked at 137, who saw off Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2, 7-5.
Defending champion and third seed Simona Halep stormed into the last 16 with a 55-minute 6-2, 6-1 thrashing of Ukrainian 27th seed Lesia Tsurenko.
Halep next faces Poland’s Iga Swiatek who celebrated her 18th birthday by seeing off Olympic champion Monica Puig 0-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic eased into the last 16, stepping up his bid to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously for the second time.
The Serbian saw off unseeded Italian Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 to set up a fourth-round tie with Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff who defeated Croatian 13th seed Borna Coric, 4-6, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (7/1), 11-9.
“Finally, I think I found my best form in the second set,” said 2016 champion Djokovic, who is yet to drop a set.
German fifth seed Alexander Zverev needed another five-setter to reach the fourth round, defeating Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 1-6, 6-2.
Zverev, whose best run at a Slam came in Paris last year when he made the quarter-finals, will face Italy’s Fabio Fognini.
Fognini defeated Spanish 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
Crowd favourite Stefanos Tsitsipas became the first Greek player in 83 years to reach the second week at Roland Garros as he survived a scare against Filip Krajinovic to win 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (8/6).
The 20-year-old will take on former champion Stan Wawrinka for a place in his second Grand Slam quarter-final.
Wawrinka, the 2015 champion, recorded his 500th match win with a 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (10/8) win over Grigor Dimitrov.
There were also wins for last year’s runner-up Dominic Thiem, French favourite Gael Monfils, Argentinian eighth seed Juan Martin del Potro and Russian 10th seed Karen Khachanov.