WASHINGTON, March 29, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko converted her fourth match point much like she played her entire Miami Open presented by Itaú quarterfinal match against No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina on Wednesday afternoon. When she needed to, the No. 5 seed Ostapenko found it in herself to hit big and she put away Svitolina with a powerful backhand winner – her 44th of the match – to win 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5). The victory advances Ostapenko to her first semifinal of 2018 against qualifier Danielle Collins, who stunned No. 8 seed Venus Williams, 6-2, 6-3, during the evening session in the Stadium.
Although Ostapenko was broken six times and committed 42 unforced errors during the 1 hour and 48 minute match on Stadium court, Svitolina couldn’t capitalize on her opportunities against the Latvian. Instead, Ostapenko broke her Ukranian opponent six times and actually won more points on Svitolina’s serve (46) than on her own (41).
“Before the match I knew that I have to be very aggressive,” Ostapenko told WTATennis.com after her win. “And when I had a chance, I was going for it. Of course I was missing some because I was trying to play aggressive the whole match, but I think my winners are more than the unforced errors.”
During one of the coaching time outs, Ostapenko’s coach, David Taylor, reminded his pupil to commit, hit the ball, and go for it. “That’s your game!” he said. “You won Roland Garros hitting 54 errors. But you hit 54 winners.”
When it counted, the resilient Ostapenko came up big in both of the tie-breaks – she is yet to drop a set all tournament – and her win lifted her into Thursday evening’s semifinal match against the surprising Collins, who has strung together a remarkable run in Miami that includes wins over Irina-Camelia Begu, No. 16 seed CoCo Vandeweghe, Donna Vekic, Monica Puig, and a stunning upset of Williams. Earlier this month, she reached the round of 16 at Indian Wells.
The 24-year-old, two-time NCAA singles champion from the University of Virginia played fearless against Williams, her childhood idol. She hit a defensive lob on set point to break Williams for a second time to take the opening set. Then, during the second set, she hit several deadly and accurate ripped backhands that kept Williams off balance. She changed the pace of her forehand throughout the 1 hour and 27 minute match and used it to effectively set up her backhand.
“Her demeanor and intensity were remarkable,” said ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez in describing Collins, who became the first qualifier to ever reach the Miami Open semifinals. Ranked No. 93 at the start of this WTA Premier Mandatory event, Collins has moved up 40 spots to No. 53 on the WTA live rankings with her string of successes.
During her on-court interview after she won, Collins said, “When I first saw Venus in the locker room I nearly cried. I’ve idolized her my whole life. She’s been my favorite player forever. This is such a special moment. I’m just trying to wrap my head around it.”
Isner dominates Chung
John Isner advanced to his 11th Masters 1000 semifinal with a dominating performance – a near-perfect match – that lasted just 68 minutes. The No. 14 seed Isner won an incredible 31 of 32 (97%) first-serve points, which included 13 aces, and easily beat the No. 19 seed Hyeon Chung, 6-1, 6-4, on Wednesday afternoon
Isner, who is ranked 17th, faced just one break point and was not broken during his quarterfinal win, which moved him up six spots to No. 11 in the ATP live rankings.
“John’s on a buzz right now the way he’s serving,” said ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert following the match.
Indeed, the 23rd-ranked South Korean was no match for Isner. He struggled with his serve, which was sloppy at times and yielded four double faults. In addition, Chung was able to win just nine of 22 (41%) second-serve points – and it got him in plenty of trouble against Isner.
“I played extremely well,” said Isner, during an on-court interview after his win. “Every match I’ve played this tournament, I’ve gotten better. So, I keep getting stronger and that’s a very good sign going forward. These conditions are perfect for me. I hope I can keep going.”
Isner has now reached the semifinals in four of the last seven Masters 1000 events he’s played. His next opponent will be No. 5 seed Juan Martín del Potro, who rallied past No. 20 seed Milos Raonic, 5-7, 7-6(1), 7-6(3).
• A couple of rematches from the 2017 U.S.Open will take place at the Miami Open on Thursday as No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev faces No. 29 Borna Coric and No. 6 seed Kevin Anderson takes on No. 16 seed Pablo Carreño Busta in quarterfinal action. Coric upset Zverev in the U.S. Open second round and Anderson defeated Carreño Busta in the semifinals. Coric will break into the Top 30 of the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time when they are updated after the Miami Open. Zverev will reach a career-high No. 3 if he wins the Miami Open.
• When wild card Victoria Azarenka walks out on Stadium court Thursday afternoon for her semifinal against No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens, it will be her fourth Miami Open semifinal appearance. Each time she’s reached the semifinals at Crandon Park – in 2009, 2011 and 2016 – she’s gone on to win the title. While Azarenka holds a 3-1 head-to-head lead against Stephens, the American won the most recent match, earlier this month at Indian Wells, 6-1, 7-5.