When Iga Swiatek, the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Open, took the first set against Jelena Ostapenko on Sunday night, it seemed like business as usual.
Swiatek, a four-time Grand Slam champion at 22, after all, was the reigning U.S. Open champion, and going into her match against Ostapenko, she had not dropped a set at this tournament.
But while Swiatek is often able to cruise through matches, Ostapenko has been a bit of a thorn in her side. Ostapenko has been undefeated against Swiatek, and extended that to four wins with a victory on Sunday night, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
In the second set, the match shifted. Ostapenko began to take control. When Ostapenko evened things up at a set apiece, Swiatek seemed to be out of her comfort zone.
As she struggled, Swiatek looked up at her box, appearing to ask for some sort of advice to contend with Ostapenko’s surge. Her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, didn’t seem to have an answer for her, and Swiatek sarcastically clapped toward her box, as if to convey thank you for nothing.
“I don’t really know what happened with my game,” Swiatek said after the match. “I felt no control suddenly.”
Throughout the third set, Ostapenko was unrelenting. “I had to be aggressive because that’s what she doesn’t really like,” Ostapenko said in an on-court interview after the match. “I was just fighting until the very last point.”
With the loss, Swiatek will descend in the rankings after 75 weeks as the women’s No. 1, paving the way for Aryna Sabalenka, this year’s Australian Open champion, to ascend to the top.
“It was pretty exhausting,” Swiatek said on holding the No. 1 spot for so long. “I still need to do all this stuff that my team and all these great players like Roger or Novak or Rafa are telling about: you just have to focus on the tournaments, not the rankings.”
Ostapenko will now face Coco Gauff, the American seeded No. 6, in a quarterfinal on Tuesday. Gauff also recently figured out how to defeat Swiatek after beating her in the semifinals of the Western and Southern Open in Ohio last month.
Ostapenko and Gauff have faced each other twice, most recently at the Australian Open, where Ostapenko defeated Gauff in straight sets in the round of 16. Gauff won their previous match in 2019.
“It was a tough match,” Ostapenko said about her Australian Open match against Gauff earlier this year. “Of course, it’s going be another tough match. I don’t expect any easy matches here in a Grand Slam, so I’m ready for another battle.”
But now, without Swiatek in the way, the U.S. Open women’s singles draw opens up much more widely. Suddenly, the path to the final has become easier for Ostapenko, Gauff, Jessica Pegula, Ons Jabeur and Sabalenka.
Gauff is ready for Ostapenko, whom she described on Sunday as a hard hitter ahead of Ostapenko’s victory.
“With Jelena, she’s a striker, ball-striker. I lost to her in Australian Open this year. She’s hot or cold, to be honest,” Gauff said.
The winner of Ostapenko and Gauff will take on the winner of a quarterfinal match between Sorana Cirstea and Karolina Muchova in the semifinals. Cirstea, of Romania, reached the quarterfinals after upsetting Belinda Bencic, the 15th seed, on Sunday. Muchova, a finalist at this year’s French Open, made it to the quarterfinals having only dropped one set in four matches.
For now, Ostapenko is focused on Gauff, whom she expects to pose a difficult challenge.
“I will try to focus on myself and enjoy it,” Ostapenko said. “It’s great to be in quarterfinals, especially here in New York.”