Maria Sharapova has been eliminated from the US Open -- and the tournament is still as compelling as ever.
No. 16 seed Anastasija Sevastova defeated Sharapova 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 Sunday in the round of 16, stopping a comeback that was supposed to make headlines into the second week of the tournament. Instead, Sharapova's elimination means that the tennis media will have to find their quarterfinal headlines elsewhere.
Fortunately, there are plenty of good players from which to choose, so we don't have to rely on Sharapova -- in Serena Williams' absence -- to carry us.
It never quite sat well with me that we were celebrating Sharapova after her 15-month PED suspension, simply because we didn't have another dedicated "star" to elevate in tennis. After Serena went on maternity leave, all eyes turned to Sharapova and Venus Williams to fill that slot of celebrity vacated by the crown queen of the sport.
It also doesn't sit well with me that Sharapova has been so readily welcomed back to tennis, and I wonder if, say, Serena or Venus or any other nonwhite player who isn't considered a darling of the sport would be so welcomed if she were found guilty of using PEDs. Serena in particular has been inundated with accusations throughout her career that she's been using performance enhancers simply because of her power, physicality and sheer dominance. In Sharapova, we have a player who actually tested positive, yet still enjoys support among media and fans who wanted to see an admittedly intriguing comeback. She fell short of that, and tennis, for this tournament at least, must move on.
But tennis doesn't need Sharapova, and as much as it benefits from the brilliance of Serena, there is enough promising and demonstrated talent to draw audiences from both the United States and abroad.
The subtext to the narrative that there aren't any Americans other than the Williamses to elevate tennis in the collective consciousness is that there aren't any American men who compete with the Nadals and Federers. The reality is that American women's tennis is as compelling in this tournament as it's ever been.
Instead of Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport, we have Madison Keys -- coached by Davenport -- and Sloane Stephens, accompanied by CoCo Vandeweghe, Jennifer Brady and, oh by the way, Venus, who advanced to the quarterfinals by beating Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 on Sunday.
There is incredible tennis happening on the men's side. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are defying both age and gravity -- but so is Venus. And the next generation of American tennis stars is blossoming on the women's side. You're seeing a brash Vandeweghe, not yet able to truly positively channel her emotions on the court, but the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd still wants to get behind her.
You're seeing two women of color in Keys and Stephens carrying the very heavy mantle borne by the Williams sisters, making it to yet another advanced round of a Grand Slam tournament with, hopefully, proportionate interest and headlines.
And you have unseeded Brady, a former UCLA standout, facing world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova on Monday.
In short, you're seeing a time in tennis when Sharapova is, at least right now, less than relevant compared to the crop of women to whom we should be paying attention. She'll come back in a future Slam, and we'll all give her outsize coverage accordingly.
But for now, let's celebrate the women we have in our midst, those personalities and talents who can never live up to Serena but who can still help further the sport. We survived the post-Pete Sampras/Andre Agassi age, and this generation of women's players demonstrates that we can survive the post-Williams sisters age, too.
The women's draw is as open as ever, with American underdogs facing heavy hitters like Elina Svitolina, Pliskova and Sevastova -- and that makes for compelling tennis. Unless you automatically undervalue the women's game, it's impossible to argue that American tennis is dying.
We're living in a time when patriotism is coming under question, yet American women are leading the charge in the "sport of kings." If you're not paying attention now, you're missing out.