Monday was a brutal day for many of the US Open’s top women’s seeds, as the number of genuine contenders in New York was whittled down significantly.
That has cleared the path to the final somewhat for the two top remaining players, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka and US star and No. 6 seed Coco Gauff.
Not that reaching Saturday’s showpiece will be a walk in the park for either.
Up next for Gauff in the quarterfinals is the resurgent Jelena Ostapenko, who utterly dismantled defending champion and world No. 1 Świątek in their deciding third set on Monday.
It is set to be a blockbuster clash between two of the biggest hitters on the WTA Tour and will be a marvel to watch should both players find their precision as well as their power.
“She’s a ball-striker,” Gauff told reporters of Ostapenko after her win over Caroline Wozniacki. “I lost to her in Australian Open this year. She’s hot or cold, to be honest.”
Gauff, who described new coach Brad Gilbert’s scouting reports on opponents as “incredible,” says “just staying in the match” when Ostapenko – who hit 31 winners past Świątek – gets into one of her blistering hitting streaks will be crucial.
“I might get some more free points with her, more so than Iga,” she added. “Maybe not. Maybe, she’ll hit so many winners.”
The uncertainty about which version of Ostapenko’s game will show up will no doubt be weighing on the Latvian’s mind, too, with the 20th seed winning just four matches between her Rothesay Classic title in June and the start of the US Open.
Crucially, however, Ostapenko has the experience of successfully navigating the latter stages of a grand slam after winning the French Open title in 2017. That is one experience Gauff doesn’t yet have, with the teenager losing in her only grand slam final appearance at last season’s Roland Garros.
But Gauff, who won the biggest title of her career in Cincinnati ahead of the US Open and has continued her scintillating form in New York, feels the variety she is adding to her game will give her a better chance against the big-hitting Ostapenko, who can take control of matches with her power in an instant.
“I think it gives me a lot of confidence knowing I can hit through people,” Gauff said. “People consider me sometimes someone who plays more passive, but I definitely think this tournament I’ve been winning the matches off of being the aggressor.
“Today [against Wozniacki], it showed that I can play aggressive and I know that’s probably when I play my best tennis, but it’s obviously finding the balance.”
Meanwhile, Sabalenka will face rising Chinese star Zheng Qinwen, who is enjoying a career best run at a grand slam after comfortably upsetting last year’s finalist Jabeur in straight sets in the round-of-16.
Świątek’s early exit means Sabalenka will become the new world No. 1 on Monday, the first time in her career she has held the top spot in the rankings, with her ascension coming after a remarkable year in which she won three titles, including her first grand slam at the Australian Open.
Sabalenka says she is currently “playing great tennis” but knows there are “always things to improve” as she anticipates a tricky match against Zheng.
“We practiced with her a couple of times,” she told reporters after Monday’s win over Daria Kasatkina. “She’s playing really great tennis. [Her] forehand is really heavy, I would say backhand as well. Serving well. Moving well.
“It’s like she’s got nothing to lose, so she’s playing at her best. She played great tennis against Ons – I haven’t watched her previous matches, but, yeah, she’s playing great tennis right now.
“The trickiest part is that she’s moving well, playing some heavy shots. I have to be physically and mentally ready that there are going to be some winners against me in that match.
“I just have to focus on myself more than on her. I know if I’ll bring my tennis there, I have a chance to win this match.”
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