Serena Williams celebrates a winner against Magda Linette. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today)

Wow, so the top-seeded woman at the U.S. Open lost her first-round match? That probably means we should take a glance at her quarter of the draw and see who really stands to benefit.

And, look … there’s Serena Williams!

That’s right, the tournament’s No. 17 seed suddenly has a wide-open path, at least to the quarterfinals. Williams and Halep, had they both continued to win in New York, were set to square off in a fourth-round match.

Suddenly, though, Williams may only need to oust the likes of eighth-seeded Karolina Pliskova or No. 12 Garbine Muguruza to reach the quarters. Neither of those players, of course, figures to be a pushover, having both been ranked No. 1 in the world. Muguruza has two Grand Slam singles titles to her name, with Pliskova having reached the U.S. Open final in 2016.

Still, Halep was ticketed to be the most formidable obstacle in everyone’s way, let alone anyone in her section. A breakthrough triumph at the French Open in June, following losses in her previous three Grand Slam final matches, had the 26-year-old Romanian happily telling reporters at Wimbledon, “The pressure is off, the dream came true.”

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Alas, the pressure returned in a big way for Halep, who arrived in New York as the only woman in the Open era to lose four opening-round matches at a major while seeded in the top five (per ESPN). Monday saw her make the most dubious history yet when she became the first women’s No. 1 seed to lose in the first round at the U.S. Open in the past 50 years, and following the 6-2, 6-4 loss to 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi, she was left to lament, “It’s always about the nerves.”

For her part, Williams said the first set of her match Monday against 68th-ranked Magda Linette was a “tight” experience, given that she hadn’t played at the U.S. Open in two years, having sat out the 2017 tournament due to what would turn out to be a harrowing childbirth. The 36-year-old had far less trouble in the second set, emerging with a 6-4, 6-0 win that had her telling the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, “It’s such a good feeling to be back out here.”

Next up for Williams is 99th-ranked Carina Witthoeft and it’s hard not to look past that and get excited for what’s looming in the third round: a possible matchup with her 38-year-old sister, Venus Williams, who survived a grueling three-set opener against 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. That gave the elder Williams a 20-0 mark in first-round U.S. Open matches, breaking a record she had been sharing with Chris Evert (per ESPN).

“Hopefully,” Venus Williams, seeded 16th in New York, said of the potential sibling showdown, “we’ll both be there.”

Serena Williams will be expected to be there, and advance, despite her bumpy season this year following a long layoff after the birth of her daughter. The 23-time Grand Slam singles winner is playing in only her seventh tournament and has made it past the third round just twice, but one of those occasions was Wimbledon, where she reached the final before losing to Angelique Kerber.

Another deep run may be in store at the U.S. Open, although getting to the final could involve squaring off in the semis with third-seeded Sloane Stephens, who won this event last year and has a contentious history with her fellow American. At least arriving at that point just got much easier for Williams, whose quest to return to the top of the tennis world won’t involve its No. 1 player.

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