It is quite shocking how thoroughly Jelena Ostapenko has flown under the radar at this year’s Wimbledon championships.
Last year’s Roland Garros champion on Monday won through to the quarterfinals for the second straight year with a 7-6(4) 6-0 triumph over Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Also moving through to the last eight was Serena Williams – who brushed fellow mother Evgeniya Rodina aside for the loss of just four games on Centre Court – and 13th seed Julia Goerges, who reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal with a straight-sets win over Donna Vekic. Camila Giorgi notched the same milestone after defeating Ekaterina Makarova 6-3 6-4.
"Whether it's Miss or Mrs Williams, it's still the same Serena"
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 9, 2018
Ostapenko hasn’t dropped a set at SW19 this fortnight and came into Manic Monday having surrendered the least games of any player in the draw.
With the top 10 women’s seeds all gone from the tournament – the last, No.7 seed Karolina Pliskova, was beaten 6-3 7-6(1) by 20th seed Kiki Bertens on Monday – Ostapenko is now the second-highest seed remaining behind No.11 seed Angelique Kerber, who joined the Latvian in the quarterfinals with an entertaining 6-3 7-6(5) victory over the resurgent Belinda Bencic.
Yet none of those stats or figures seem to have translated into significant conversations around Ostapenko’s potential to win this year’s tournament.
There’s been so little attention on her this week that Monday marked the first time she’d done her post-match press conference in one of the tournament’s two main interview rooms.
Perhaps that’s because for a lot of people, the freshest memory they have in their minds of the Latvian was her shock first-round loss at Roland Garros to unheralded Ukrainian Kateryna Kozlova, ending her title defence at the very first hurdle.
She admitted she felt the pressure then, and that it had now lifted.
“I tried to forget (that loss) as quick as possible. I went back home. I took a couple of days off, celebrated my birthday, then started to prepare for grass court season,” she said.
“(I’m swinging more freely) actually a little bit. Yeah, I’m just not afraid to miss. I’m just going for the shots. I think I’m serving very well this tournament. In general, I think my level is much better than last Grand Slam.
“I think I’m probably playing kind of similar as the French Open last year. But still I think grass is a bit better for my game because the rallies are not that long, especially if I’m serving well, there are no long rallies. Like, I think it’s much better for me.”
It wasn’t looking good for her at the start of the match, when she fell behind 5-2 against Sasnovich. The Belarusian was playing intelligent, purposeful, effective tennis, the kind that helped her to a first-round upset of eighth seed Petra Kvitova.
Yet at that point, Ostapenko was given a violation for off-court coaching, something that certainly did not sit well with the 21-year-old. “Actually that code violation made me even more motivated and angry, so I just started to play better,” she said.
She rattled off 12 of the next 14 points to level at 5-5 and once she had the first set in the bag, there was no stopping her. She blasted 25 winners from the back of the court – compared to Sasnovich’s 10 – and kept her unforced error tally to a tidy 15.
Ostapenko is on track for a for a semifinal showdown with Kerber, but must first get past former world No.4 Dominika Cibulkova, a 6-4 6-1 victor over Hsieh Su-Wei.
No top-10 seeds left among the women but players remaining aren't unknowns:
-Serena (23 majors)
-Kerber (2 majors)
-Ostapenko (1 major)
-Cibulkova (Slam finalist)
-Bertens (RG SF)
-Goerges (5 finals '17)
-Kasatkina (IW finalist)
-Giorgi (that striking of the ball)#wimbledon
— Ravi Ubha (@raviubha) July 9, 2018
“I somehow managed and won the (first) set. I think it helps me even more, gives me even more confidence for the next matches,” Ostapenko said.
“There are still good players in the draw. I mean, everybody who went in the quarterfinals are good players. I’m just trying to focus more on myself, just try to play my game. I think there is still many things I can still improve, be on a higher level.
“But I think I’m playing a good level of tennis right now.”
Kerber next faces Daria Kasatkina after the 14th seed ended Alison Van Uytvanck’s run with a 6-7(6) 6-3 6-2 win.
Kerber led Bencic – a former world No.7 on the comeback trail from injury – 6-3 3-1 before the Swiss upped her aggression, injecting more pace into her groundstrokes and taking the ball earlier.
With Kerber’s normally reliable backhand drop-shot going awry, Bencic broke for a 5-4 lead and served for the set, only for Kerber to save four set points and break back.
Kerber led 4-1 in the ensuing tiebreak only for Bencic to again stage a comeback, but errors proved the 21-year-old’s undoing.
“It was not so easy, especially because I know she’s playing very well on grass. She beat me always in the top matches,” said Kerber, who scored her first win in four meetings with the Swiss.
“Today I was just trying to being aggressive. She played well, especially, yeah, when she was down. She came back in the second set. She had set points. I’m coming back, so it was a little bit of up and downs in the second set. Actually I’m happy that I’m through in two sets.”
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