Ostapenko ends No.1 Swiatek’s US Open title defense; faces Gauff

NEW YORK — No.20 Jelena Ostapenko continued her mastery over Iga Swiatek, ending the World No.1’s US Open title defense with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory in the fourth round. The 26-year-old Latvian is now 4-0 in her career against Swiatek. 

The victory means World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka will overtake Swiatek and ascend to the No.1 ranking after the US Open. Swiatek will have held the top spot for 75 consecutive weeks, the third-longest first-time streak in Hologic WTA Tour history.

Into her first US Open quarterfinal, the 2017 French Open champion will next face No.6 Coco Gauff next. The two have split their two prior meetings, with Ostapenko knocking the American out of the Australian Open in January.

Match notes: Swiatek went into Sunday night having won just one set in three meetings against the big-hitting Latvian. Ostapenko’s game, based on audacious hitting that can run hot and cold, had historically overpowered the Pole. But this was their first meeting since Swiatek’s rise to No.1 last year. 

Prior to the match, Swiatek was confident that her evolution since then, particularly on hard courts, could flip the script.

“With Jelena, it’s a little bit like one day she can play a perfect match and just put everything in even though she’s really risking, and the other day can be different,” Swiatek said ahead of the match. “You never know what to expect. 

“But I kind of accept that all these players they are going to play the best tennis against me.”

How the match was won: The match began with an exchange of breaks before settling down into their much-anticipated baseline tug-o-war. With Ostapenko serving down 3-2, 30-all, Swiatek out-gunned her from the baseline, eliciting oohs and ahhs from the crowd, to earn her a break point chance. Ostapenko snuffed it out but Swiatek made good on a second chance, firing a flat cross-court passing shot for a 4-2 lead. 

Serving to close out the set at 5-3, Swiatek watched helplessly as Ostapenko rifled her 11th and 12th winners for a 15-30 lead. But a missed return and serendipitous netcord winner later and Swiatek had a set point. She converted on another missed return — Ostapenko landed just 57 percent — to close out the 39-minute opener.

Turning point: Ostapenko responded immediately, breaking Swiatek in her opening service game by saving two game points and consolidating for a quick 3-0 lead. Swiatek got on the board after Ostapenko pushed her first drop shot attempt of the night into the net, but Ostapenko had settled into a comfortable rhythm on her service games and had now doubled up on Swiatek in the winners column.

As she sat for a 4-1 lead, Ostapenko had fired 10 winners in the set to Swiatek’s one. More importantly, she limited her errors, hitting just five to Swiatek’s three.

Serving to take the match into a third set, Ostapenko fended off a break point with a good kicking second serve that elicited a wide return. With that, the match went into a decider after a brisk 80 minutes of play. 

“I always expect a tough battle against Iga,” Ostapenko said on court. “She’s won many Slams and she plays very consistent. I just went on court and I had to play aggressive because that’s what she doesn’t really like. In the third set, I stepped more in the court and I was serving better.”

Having now found the perfect balance of disciplined offense, Ostapenko broke Swiatek in the opening game and consolidated for a 2-0 lead. Swiatek’s forehand began to leak more errors and the Latvian could sense the occasion. Only Anastasia Potapova had played more three-set matches this season than Ostapenko, who carried a 15-8 record in deciders into the match. 

With a flurry of offense, Ostapenko broke again for double-break lead at 3-0. It was a lead she would protect with ease as she closed out the win after 1 hour and 48 minutes.

Ostapenko finished the match with 31 winners to 20 unforced errors. Swiatek hit 18 winners to 18 unforced errors. To earn her second career win over a reigning No.1, Ostapenko broke Swiatek seven times.

Stat of the match: Ostapenko’s victory snapped Swiatek’s 33-match win streak when she won the first set at a Slam. 

More to follow…

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