Venus Williams was knocked out of the US Open on Wednesday, beaten 6-3 2-6 7-6 by China's Zheng Jie after the pair slugged it out for more than three hours.
The 33-year-old American, the second oldest player in the women's singles draw, staged an incredible fightback to push the match into a deciding tiebreak but ultimately came up just short as she suffered her third successive second round exit at Flushing Meadows.
Williams was once the undisputed queen of tennis in New York, winning the US Open in 2000 and 2001, but has struggled with health problems in recent years.
She provided a glimpse of her best when she beat Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens in the opening round on Monday but was always in trouble against the 30-year-old Zheng, whose best achievements have come in doubles. With her hair braided and dyed a deep purple and with her fingernails polished in the same vivid fuschia, Williams made a shaky start.
The former world number one committed 15 unforced errors and served four double-faults to lose the opening set, which was interrupted by a long rain delay. She fought back to win the second and recovered from 4-1 behind in the third through sheer force of will.
But just when she got back on level points in the tiebreaker, Williams made two successive errors to hand victory to Zheng, who matched her best performance at the US Open by reaching the third round.
"It's unbelievable I can beat her," Zheng said in a courtside interview. "I think this is very good for me and gives me more confidence for the next one."