US Open Day 7 | Sevastova sends Sharapova packing
After a week of upsets and inexplicable results, the US Open delivered a few more on the middle Sunday in New York.
Maria Sharapova’s controversial wild card return to the US Open came to an end at the hands of the 16th seed Anastasija Sevastova, 5-7 6-4 6-2, putting the Latvian into the quarter-finals here for the second consecutive year.
Sevastova missed significant time on tour due to various injuries and illnesses between 2011 and 2013, forcing her to temporarily retire in 2013.
“Because of almost three years of continuing illnesses, injuries and the related problems, I don’t see myself carrying on in this complex sport at the highest possible level,” Sevastova said in a statement at the time but she returned in January of 2015 after missing nearly two years of professional competition.
The first set was very close, it could have gone either way. She played unbelieveable, but I kept fighting, running down every ball and I stayed there with her. Of course, emotions are very high in the end, and it's difficult to close at 5-2. Anastasija Sevastova
When Sevastova won the first of her five career title at an event in Estoril in 2010, she became the first Latvian to win a title in 17 years and has been ranked as high as No. 16 in the world.
Despite Sharapova racing to a 4-1 lead at the start the match, played out again on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sevastova’s crafty game left the former No 1 puzzled as the match wore on, using heavy-spin drop shots to great effect during their two-hour, 16-minute contest.
Sharapova could not find her range or rhythm as she had done in her three previous matches and, by the time the last ball was struck, the Russian had hit 51 unforced errors while Sevastova played a near flawless match with only 14.
“The first set was very close, it could have gone either way,” Sevastova said in her on-court interview.
“She played unbelieveable, but I kept fighting, running down every ball and I stayed there with her. Of course, emotions are very high in the end, and it’s difficult to close at 5-2.”
Sharapova is a great fighter and when Sevastova played her patient game to get on serve at 3-4, on double break point up 6-5, she blasted a forehand winner that closed out the first set.
The 27-year-old Latvian was the first to take the lead in the second at 2-1 and held onto it for the better half of the set.
In the seventh game, Sharapova produced a remarkable lob, hit left-handed, and won the game when Sevastova’s drop shot return attempt fell short.
The Russian’s overall drop in first serve percentage down to 48 percent, however, and her crippling string of errors cost her the second set and the momentum shifted.
Sharapova’s six-minute bathroom break between sets did not swing it back for the Russian, and she returned to court to double-fault, losing the opening game.
By then, her game was breaking down and although Sevastova conceded a break at 3-1, she held strong to weather the turbulence, reeling off three of the last four games to hold off the Russian and advance into the quarter-finals after a two-hour, 16-minute contest.
It brought Sharapova’s first major tournament in more than two years, her 50th appearance in a Grand Slam main draw, to a close.
The Russian had served a 15-month suspension for testing positive for the banned substance meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open and this was her first major tournament since recently returning to the tour.
The Russian won three significant matches in New York, including an upset of the 2nd-seeded Simona Halep, before succumbing to Sevastova.
“It’s been a really great ride in the last week,” Sharapova said afterward.
“Obviously coming off a loss, you know, it’s a quick turnaround in order to reflect all the positives that happened in the last eight or nine days.
“But ultimately I can take a lot from this week. It’s great to get that major out of the way. It was an incredible opportunity. I’m very thankful for the opportunity. I did my best. I can be proud of that.”
Sevastova’s year so far has included a title at Mallorca, a semi-final showing in Madrid, and two quarter-final finishes in Stuttgart and Rome.
Now secure in the US Open quarter-final, she awaits the in-form Sloane Stephens, who prevailed 6-3 3-6 6-1 over 30th-seeded German Julia Goerges.
Stephens sees off Goerges
Sloane Stephens, 24, who returned to competition at Wimbledon after nearly a year off the courts because of a foot injury, beat Germany’s 30th seed Julia Goerges 6-3 3-6 6-1 to reach the quarter-finals of the US Open for the first time, excited just to be hitting the ball again on the temporary structure of Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“I think that now that I’m running around and sweating, my ponytail is flying, these are all such great things,” Stephens said at a news conference.
“I think I’m just happy to be running around and competing again.”
After being sidelined for months, Stephens underwent foot surgery last February, aiming for a summer comeback.
“Obviously when I couldn’t play, I literally couldn’t even go on the court, stand and hit a ball. I had to sit down and all that stuff,” she explained.
Her positive attitude helped her through the recovery process after she was unable to walk for four months.
“It was more of an exciting time because I couldn’t walk, I was off the peg leg, then I was happy I could walk, I was happy I could sit in a chair and play tennis,” she said.
“I think it was more I kept a really positive attitude and I tried to just be excited about every single thing. It worked out better that way.”
The return was painful, with first-round defeats at Wimbledon and at the Citi Open, but Stephens’s confidence grew after reaching the semi-finals at the Rogers Cup and also ending up in the last four at the Cincinnati Open.
She upset 11th seed Domenika Cibulkova en route to the fourth round and her path to the final has opened up after Maria Sharapova fell at the hands of the Latvian 16th seed, Anastasija Sevastova.
Stephens, however, refuses to look beyond her quarter-final match against Sevastova.
“I don’t think about that (the draw). Just one match at a time. Just play and have fun,” she said.
After a disappointing second set, Stephens, 24, rebounded in the third, reigning in her errors and playing more offensive, but still controlled, tennis.
Under grey, threatening skies on Armstrong, Stephens played conservatively in the first set, allowing Goerges to self-destruct with a rash of unforced errors.
The German began to connect in the middle set, however, and Stephens’ level of play dropped precipitously.
The deciding set was all Stephens: she hit out with her forehand and dictated play to run away with the match. Goerges ended the match with 43 errors, compared to just 16 for Stephens.
On match point, the American crunched an easy overhead at the net and let out a satisfied shriek, her arms outstretched in victory.
“All week I’ve been giving her restaurant reservations,” said Stephens about Goerges. “So I think she’s going to make me take her to dinner since I beat her this time!”