TORONTO - The Rogers Cup managed to go from the sublime to the ridiculous in a matter of a few short hours.
Four more top seeds -- two reigning Grand Slam champions, the third-ranked player in the world and photogenic and fiesty Maria Sharapova -- exited the Rogers Cup with third-round losses Thursday afternoon at Rexall Centre, leaving the tournament devoid of many of the players that drag paying customers through the turnstiles.
French Open champ Na Li. Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova. Third-ranked Vera Zvonareva. Fifth-ranked Sharapova, arguably the world's most popular female athlete.
All finished in the Rogers Cup earlier than anyone could have imagined.
Only Serena Williams, unseeded and ranked 80th but still one of the game's biggest draws, managed to avoid the carnage but it took a hard-fought, three-set win over Jie Zheng of China. The former No. 1 survived, barely, with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over the diminutive 23-year-old qualifier who only got into the third round because second seed Kim Clijsters tore an abdominal muscle.
But on the whole, what transpired was, in a word, unthinkable.
Once the first domino toppled, the rest quickly followed suit.
None among the world's best were immune on a day that could be looked back on as Black Thursday by Rogers Cup organizers.
"I think it makes for an exciting story because, at the end of the day, no matter what you're ranked or seeded, the reason you go out and play the match is to know who's gonna be the winner on that day," Sharapova said. "Whether you're No. 1 in the world or you're facing someone who is (ranked) 100 or so, you still have to go out and win. That's what the sport is all about."
On Thursday, though, it was mostly about being the last woman standing.
The day got off to an explosive start when China's Li, the sixth seed here, bowed out with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to No. 10 Samantha Stosur of Australia in her tournament debut, the first time she's played since losing in the second round at Wimbledon in June.
"I was feeling like a junior on the court," Li said with a smile. "It's always tough after a break coming back for the first match because I had six or seven weeks (off). At the beginning of the match I didn't even know what I should do on the court."
Barely two hours later it was No. 7 Kvitova of the Czech Republic on the way out. Germany's Andrea Petkovic continued her strong run to the tournament quarter-finals by booting Kvitova with a 6-1, 6-2 win on a windy centre court.
The dust from those two shocking upsets had barely settled when Galina Voskoboeva, a qualifier who has played primarily on the lower-tier ITF circuit this year, eliminated fifth-seeded Sharapova 6-3, 7-5.
"I'm happy but it's not like something that's a miracle," Voskoboeva said. "Russians used to say the ball is round, so everything can happen. Of course I had nothing to lose. Maria is a great player, a great fighter."
But the 26-year-old Russian, ranked 135th in the world, wasn't intimidated by Sharapova and let it all hang out on the court.
"You could tell that she came to the match with a lot of confidence, swinging away, going for the first serve and her shots," Sharapova said. "You know, I think if she could consistently play like that, she wouldn't be ranked where she is. She showed she can play some really great tennis."
Not to be out-done, third-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia became the fourth major upset victim of the day, falling 6-4, 7-6 to Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, the 13th seed. Unlucky for Zvonareva? Maybe.
Even unseeded Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, the 2006 Rogers Cup champ and a former No. 1 who has slipped to 16 in the world, couldn't avoid the early trip out of town. Roberta Vinci of Italy, who knocked out world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark on Wednesday, added another notch to her belt by eliminating Ivanovic with a 7-6, 6-2 win.