This was not the Asian swing that Victoria Azarenka had hoped for.
After showing signs of being a consistent rival to No. 1 Serena Williams this summer, with a victory over Serena in the final of the Western & Southern Open and a tight three-set loss in the U.S. Open final, Azarenka has taken a couple of steps backwards this fall.
In Tokyo last week, she lost in her first match to Venus Williams, 6-2 6-4. Then, in the China Open this week, she lost to Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in the first round.
Going back to the U.S. Open, this is Azarenka's third straight defeat. She hasn't suffered such a fate since early in 2010, when she was ranked outside the Top 10.
While only time will tell how significant these losses are, they have allowed Serena to already clinch the year-end No. 1 ranking. Serena is now in Beijing looking to finish the best overall season of her career with a bang.
Her lead in the rankings is almost unfathomable.
With defending champ No2 Azarenka out + 2012 finalist No3 Sharapova absent, Serena could leave Beijing with ranking lead of nearly 5000 pts.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 30, 2013
As of her first-round win in the China Open over Elena Vesnina, Serena is 68-4 in 2013 with nine titles, including the French Open and the U.S. Open. That's week-in and week-out consistency that we simply haven't ever seen from Serena.
Azarenka, meanwhile, is 42-7 on the year with three titles, including the Australian Open. Her numbers are far from embarrassing, but her health and form this fall have been worrying, especially considering her quotes to the AFP last week in Tokyo:
"Serena is playing the best tennis of her life and so am I," she said.
"It's been really noticeable the gap from last year we have in the matches has minimised. I've beaten her twice this year. No one else has done that.
"It's just exciting to be in the era of somebody and competing with somebody who is considered the best ever and being their toughest opponent."
Azarenka's tone drastically changed this week after her third-straight loss, as she told BBC Sport:
"It was an awful match and very bad performance from me, so not much to say," said Azarenka, who was beaten by Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final earlier this month.
"It happens once, twice a year to every player, and happened to me today.
"If I'm going to be doing it again, I probably should have taken a longer break (between tournaments) and just prepared myself. I don't feel like I was ready to play.
"It's just my mistake for not paying much attention after the U.S. Open how I managed my time and how I managed my health."
Azarenka battled with an illness in her loss in Tokyo to Venus; however, she claimed that she was in good health headed into the China Open. But her 15 double faults and overall poor form in her loss to Petkovic suggested that wasn't the case.
Earlier in her career, Serena had trouble maintaining consistency and taking care of her health week in and week out, but her professionalism on and off the court the past year has simply taken her to another level.
And the scary thing is that, even though she just turned 32, Serena is showing no signs of slowing down. She has dominating head-to-heads over her closest competitors Azarenka (13-3) and No. 3 Maria Sharapova (14-2), and, unless something unexpected happens, it's hard to see her falling from her throne anytime soon.
Though Azarenka is the closest thing Serena currently has to a rival, the Belarusian's recent woes just highlight how big the gap between the two of them is.
Azarenka might feel like the gap is getting smaller, but there's still a canyon between first and second in the WTA.
Perhaps that's just the reality of playing in an era of (an extremely motivated) Serena Williams.