MELBOURNE, Australia - What a difference a major makes. Four months ago, Swiss wunderkind Belinda Bencic was all the rage as she became the youngest player to reach the US Open quarterfinals since her mentor Martina Hingis did so in 1997. Bencic also earned her first career Top 10 win against Angelique Kerber during her run in New York, further fueling expectations that she'd one day be a tour de force on tour.
On Monday in Melbourne, with Hingis looking on in her player's box, Bencic had an altogether different Grand Slam experience. The 17-year-old became the first seed to be ushered out of the draw, by hard-hitting Julia Goerges of Germany, 6-2, 6-1.
But Bencic wasn't the only seed to be sent packing on Day 1. In total, eight seeded players were bounced from the draw on a day where chaos reigned supreme and only the strong survived.
"The game's getting more and more depth," opined 18-time major champion Chris Evert from the commentary booth. "The younger players are doing well, there's not that intimidation factor."
The competition may not be intimidating to young players like Bencic, but the pressure to back up big-time results can be overwhelming.
Last year, when Bencic reached the quarterfinals in New York, she was traveling under the radar and playing with nothing to lose.
"I think she had all the pressure because she needed to win," Bencic said after notching her milestone win against Jelena Jankovic in front of an enamored New York night session crowd. "I could just enjoy."
This year, the tables have turned.
Pressure, as the great Billie Jean King likes to say, is a privilege, but it's also an entity that teenagers who are bursting with talent but lacking experience must learn to process and overcome.
The type of consistency that has become the trademark of Maria Sharapova, who won her opener in straight sets on Monday, is now becoming the norm for rising stars like Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard - also first round winners on Monday. But even well-heeled veterans like fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic, who crumbled in three sets to 142nd-ranked qualifier Lucie Hradecka on Day 1, are not immune to the perils of debilitating pressure.
"It's really disappointing," Ivanovic said after becoming the first Top 5 seed to bow out of the tournament. "You know, it's probably the worst thing that could happen."
Only time will tell if Bencic will rise above the fray to prove herself as capable of winning as she is at stirring up expectations. Until then, she will take her lumps, hit her speed bumps and keep on learning.
And know that she's not the only one who has fallen prey to the upset bug.
Quote of the Day: World No. 142 Lucie Hradecka after becoming the first player to upset a Top 5 seed on Day 1 of the Australian Open since 2003: "It's two hours after the match, and I'm still smiling."
Stat of the Day: The record for most seeded players to lose in the first round of a major is 11. There were eight today and the top half of the draw has yet to take the court.
Tweet of the Day: After being caught by ESPN's cameras while vomiting on court, American Christina McHale rallied to defeat Stephanie Foretz, 6-4, 1-6, 12-10. In addition to the heroic victory, McHale was a good sport about it:
McHale a bit embarrassed by throwing up episode but doesnt fault TV for airing it. "Its their job to show whats happening on court" #AusOpen
— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) January 19, 2015