Cape Town - Kevin Anderson's bleak downward slide in 2016 has continued on the eve of the US Open with a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 defeat against the Czech Republic's Jiri Vesely in his opening match of the ATP's Winston-Salem Open.
And, no doubt, adding to the untimely disappointment of South Africa's leading tennis player was the fact that he was the defending champion - having secured his third ATP career title while winning the scenic, traditional warm-up to Flushing Meadows' Grand Slam event last year.
Starting 2016 ranked 12th in the world, Anderson's ranking had slipped to 25th at the start of this week - with his speedy elimination from the Winston-Salem tournament due to result in a further disconcerting drop to 34th or 35th when the new rankings come out next week.
What is further daunting for the Johannesburg-born, 6ft 8in booming server is the fact that he will be defending 360 ranking points in the US Open after upsetting current world No 2 Andy Murray at Flushing Meadows last year and going on to reach his solitary Grand Slam quarter-final.
Without, at least, matching last year's achievement, Anderson could end up close to a 50th ranking by the time the US Open is completed.
And in the 2016 rankings based on points secured this year, Anderson's decline is even more striking, with a drop to 89th position
While a string of injuries hampered Anderson at the start of the year, he was able to declare before the Wimbledon championships in June that he was "finally fully fit" and raring to go.
But results have continued to be erratic, with defeats against players ranked below him - and losses from inviting positions suggesting that his string of defeats had taken a toll on his confidence.
"There is no doubting my disappointment at going out of the tournament as the defending champion at such an early stage," said Anderson after his loss to the 48th-ranked Vesely.
The big-hitting Czech, who boasts a victory over world No 1 Novak Djokovic this year, said that like Anderson his game was built on a powerhouse serve.
"I knew the outcome would depend on winning a couple key points," he added after taking his career record against Anderson to two-games apiece, "and that is exactly how it turned out."
And winning those key points is what Anderson seems to need more than anything going into the year’s final Grand Slam!