Ostapenko served one of the best matches of her career to knock out world No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, to advance to her first quarterfinal at the U.S. Open, in which she will face sixth-seeded Coco Gauff.
The loss means the U.S. Open will have a first-time champion next weekend and the WTA Tour will have a new player atop the rankings for the first time in 75 weeks at the conclusion of the year’s final major. Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka will take over the No. 1 spot for the first time because of her fourth-round berth.
Sabalenka, who along with other Russian and Belarusian tennis players must play under a neutral flag while the war in Ukraine continues, needed only to equal Swiatek’s result to claim the No. 1 ranking. She plays Daria Kasatkina on Monday.
With Sunday’s win, Ostapenko continued a singular dominance over Swiatek — the Latvian is the first player to defeat the 22-year-old four times. She had two things in mind while executing the upset Sunday: her history with Swiatek and the pressure the Polish woman was under to both defend her U.S. Open title and the No. 1 ranking.
It helps that she has the exact type of high-wire power game against which Swiatek struggles, especially on hard courts. The four-time major winner tends to favor matches against fellow finesse players and those who don’t rocket groundstrokes with every swing of the racket.
Swiatek said she lost control Sunday and couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t adjusting.
“This time, I don’t know, like my mistakes were so huge, and I had no idea why suddenly I couldn’t return,” Swiatek said. “I’m a good returner. I was focusing on the same things as in the first set, and the same things overall, when my game is working. I don’t know. I don’t know. I need to watch. Maybe this will give me some answers.”
Said Ostapenko: “I was just trying to make it hard for her and to play my game and to fight until the very last point. I knew there will be moments when I have chances, and I waited for them. … Yeah, I think I dominated in the end of the match.”
She did: Just two of her 20 unforced errors came in the third set. Ostapenko plays a high-risk game and is known for being “hot-and-cold,” as Gauff said Sunday, but her go-for-broke service kept Swiatek a step behind all night. Ostapenko’s second serve did her no favors — she won just 6 of 24 points on it — but when her first serve hit, it was a marvel. She won 33 of 45 points on her first serve and had seven aces.
“It’s not bad stats comparing to 80 unforced errors and winning the match,” Ostapenko said, referencing her second-round match with a laugh. “I mean, I’m improving probably round by round.”
Ostapenko won over a mildly pro-Switaek crowd with her big hitting and equally big personality Sunday. The Latvian, with her expressive, childlike features, never hides her emotions on court and can’t help but entertain — so much so that she’s often the subject of memes.
She won’t have the crowd on her side against Gauff, but might feel the similar freedom she felt against Swiatek as the American looks to collect her first Grand Slam trophy on the heels of a hot summer. Gauff, along with the rest of the field, will be trying to take advantage of what’s now a wide-open draw. Twelve women remain with the completion of the fourth round on tap for Monday, only two players aside from Ostapenko have a Grand Slam trophy, and they’re in the same half of the draw. Marketa Vondrousova won Wimbledon this year and Sabalenka won in Australia.
Ostapenko and Gauff have split their two career meetings, though Ostapenko’s win is fresher. She beat the American in the fourth round of this year’s Australian Open.