At the Rothesay Classic in Birmingham on Thursday, No 2 seed Jelena Ostapenko needed 3 sets to get past veteran Venus Williams, while Sorana Cirstea, the 8th seed, lost after going the distance against qualifier Magdalena Frech.
She’s a great champion [Venus Williams], and that hasn’t gone anywhere, and it’s always gonna be with her. I mean, she’s an idol for a lot of people. So, it was very special. Jelena Ostapenko
They were joined in the quarter-finals by top seed Barbora Krejcikova, 4th-seeded Anastasia Potapova and lucky loser Rebecca Marino.
Krejcikova cruised into the Last 8 with a 6-4 6-4 win over fellow Czech Tereza Martincova, while Russia’s Potapova outlasted American Caty McNally, 3-6 6-2 7-6(0), and Canadian Marino got the better of another qualifier, America’s Emina Bektas, 6-4 4-6 7-6(1).
It was the popcorn match of the day, however, that drew the most attention, as Ostapenko took on Williams, later in the afternoon on the Ann Jones Centre Court at the Edgbaston Priory Club.
Ostapenko was relishing the experience of playing the 43-year old American, and, for much of the first and second sets, the Latvian appeared to be in full control, until Williams mounted her come-back from 3-6, 3-5 down, and gave the No 2 seed a good scare.
It took the 26-year-old 2 hours and 24 minutes to battle past the 7-times Grand Slam champion, 6-3 5-7 6-3, and, afterwards, Ostapenko expressed her admiration for the American and acknowledged her legacy.
“She’s a great champion, and that hasn’t gone anywhere, and it’s always gonna be with her,” she said. “I mean, she’s an idol for a lot of people. So, it was very special.”
Williams, a 5-time Wimbledon champion, came into the match on the heels of a gruelling 3-hour effort to defeat Italy’s Camila Giorgi to secure her first win on grass since 2021, and, in the meeting between two former Grand Slam champions, she held a 2-0 advantage in the head-to-head against Ostapenko, with both wins coming in 2017.
Their last was a lengthy 7-5 6-7(3) 7-5 win at the 2017 WTA Finals in Singapore.
After pressuring the Ostapenko serve early, Williams broke for a 3-2 lead with the help of an outstanding lunging backhand slice that landed as a perfect drop-shot.
The 2017 French Open champion responded with an immediate break to love, and, from there, Ostapenko found her range on return, overpowering the American from the baseline to seal the opening set after 35 minutes.
Williams did not win a point behind her second serve in the first set, going 0 for 8.
After a pair of holds to move the score to 2-2 in the second, Williams took an off-court medical timeout, returning with more tape in addition to the already-bandaged right knee.
When play resumed, Ostapenko broke serve immediately to lead 3-2, extending that to 5-3, but, while serving to stay in the match, Williams saved a match point to hold in a lengthy 4-deuce game to narrow the gap to 5-4.
Having seen her chance to close out the match come and go, the Latvian played an error-strewn game to gift the break back, and the set was levelled at 5-5.
The American went on to win 6 consecutive games to take the match into an improbable decider, and put her 2-0 up in the decider.
Later, Ostapenko admitted that she had been unable to close out the match at her first try because of nerves.
“Yeah, it’s great to play against players like her,” she said. “So, maybe I got a little bit tight in the second set – because playing against such a great player.”
Ostapenko responded to the Williams surge with one of her own, breaking back immediately and coming through a pressure-filled service game to save a break point and hold for 3-3, before breaking again to lead 4-3.
The Latvian World No 17 closed out the win with her 3rd break of the final set to get herself over the finish line after nearly two-and-a-half hours of enthralling tennis, and score her first win over the American.
“My idol was always Serena and I was always watching her,” Ostapenko confessed later. “And the way she was just on the court firing it up and all the emotions – I really love it. And I think that’s what makes tennis a great game.”
Ostapenko added that she hopes she can be an idol for the younger generation, just like the Williams’ sisters were for her.
“Yeah, I’m a little bit older now, but still have some experience. And I hope I can be an idol for some young kids,” she said in the on-court interview.
Williams, a former World No 1 who has dropped to No 697, will be hoping for a good run at Wimbledon after receiving a wild-card invitation to compete at The Championships.
Ostapenko will next face Poland’s Magdalena Frech in the quarter-finals, who upset 8th seeded Sorana Cirstea, 6-3 6-7(1) 6-4.
The qualifier, fresh off her second career WTA quarter-final in Nottingham last week, made her third at the Rothesay Classic with her 3-set upset of the Romanian.
Earlier in the day, 4th-seeded Potapova denied McNally without dropping a point in a 3rd-set tiebreak, having come from 2-5 down in the decider to defeat the American.
The Russian meets Britain’s Harriet Dart in the quarter-finals on Friday for a place in the Last 4.
Canada’s lucky loser Marino made the first grass-court WTA quarter-final of her career after also coming back in the third set, from 3-5 down, to defeat American qualifier Emina Bektas, saving 4 match points in the process.
After facing triple match point at 5-4, she won 21 of the last 25 points of the match, dropping just one in the final breaker.
Marino will meet China’s Zhu Lin for a spot in the semis.
Top seed Krejcikova’s run sets her up against another Czech compatriot, 18-year old Linda Fruhvirtova, who has already seen off Ukrainian Elina Svitolina and 6th-seeded Bernarda Pera from the USA to reach the quarters.