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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, September 3, 2017

This US Open given us the missing—Serena and Vika—and the meek—nine of the Top 15 women’s seeds are gone by the first Sunday.

Today, the comeback artists hijacked the narrative.

Mouratoglou: Sharapova Will Fall

Committed mischief-maker Anastasija Sevastova concocted disorientating spins shredding Maria Sharapova, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to rally into her second straight US Open quarterfinal.




"I think I allowed the match to become physical," Sharapova said. "I don't think I played as aggressive or was stepping in as much as I did in the first set, especially in the beginning of the match. She definitely has the matches behind her back. She's got the variety. She'll make you hit a lot of balls.

"She likes to play with confidence. She wins a few of those rallies, and all of a sudden the momentum changes. Yeah, I definitely took a few steps back a little bit and gave her the time to dictate play and get more balls back."

Sevastova set up a quarterfinal with Sloane Stephens.

An inspired Stephens defeated Julia Goerges for the second time in a month, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, advancing to her first US Open quarterfinal.

Both Sevastova and Stephens are playing dynamic tennis after extended departures from the sport.




Wimbledon was Stephens' first tournament in 11 months following a foot injury and subsequent surgery in January. Stephens has scored wins over Grand Slam singles champions Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber and doubles No. 1 Lucie Safarova rolling into successive semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati, where she also swept Goerges rocketing her ranking 783 spots in the process.

This result has surprised Stephens, who missed Flushing Meadows last year nursing a foot injury.

"Obviously, I could never say, Oh, yeah, when I was coming back, I'm going to make two semifinals, a quarterfinal. I would have been like, You're crazy," Stephens said. "But I definitely think that I'm playing well. I think it's more of like putting the matches together that process that makes it a little bit tougher when you're coming back.

"I was lucky able to get a lot of those matches in a row, like in Toronto and Cincinnati back-to-back, which during a comeback is not easy. So I think that's probably where I kind of got a little fortunate there."

The 27-year-old Latvian retired from tennis in 2013 due to nagging back pain and a growing malaise from the weekly grind of the pro circuit. After about an 18-month absence to heal her body and clear her mind, she mounted a comeback.

“I decided to stop because it was depressing,” Sevastova has said of her break. “I had big back problems, some muscular problems, all the time getting fit then injured again - I was not happy, so I decided to stop and see how my body reacted."

The daughter of an English teacher is fluent in shifting speeds, while Sharapova speaks primarily raw power.

Sevastova didn’t just beat Sharapova, she bamboozled her.

The 16th-seeded Latvian blended defense, finesse and a flair for daring drop shots and shrewd angles to unsettle the former world No. 1.

Sharapova knocked off world No. 2 Simona Halep in a stunning opening-night return to Grand Slam tennis. But her lack of match play and rust was evident The 2006 champion powered out to a 4-1 lead and held off a Sevastova rally building a one-set lead.

The Russian wild card is at her best commanding the center of the court and ripping flat strikes into the corners of the court. Movement is a Sevastova strength and she used her ability to create angles on the run to start her comeback.

Displacing the power player from the baseline, Sevastova mixed in the drop shot and sharp angles dragging Sharapova into awkward positions on court.

Sevastova, who scored the early break in the second set, played much cleaner tennis hitting 21 winners against just 14 unforced errors. An increasingly erratic Sharapova littered the court with more than three times as many errors, coming 18 of her 51 errors in the final set.

Beating Sharapova to the ball repeatedly, Sevastova exposed the deficiencies in the five-time Grand Slam champion: movement, transition game—Sharapova botched some swing volleys and is overhead averse—and an inability to adjust.

Rather than give herself a bit more margin and add more air to her shots, Sharapova stubbornly continued to bang away with flat strikes and escalating errors.

Labor Day weekend reminds us 2017 is a year for Latvian tennis. Jelena Ostapenko won her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros now Sevastova stands one victory from her first Grand Slam semifinal in just her 19th major.

The comeback run will continue for either Sevastova or Stephens when they square off for the first time, both playing for a first US Open semifinal. 
"She's a great player. I will obviously talk to my coach, just go out and play the game that I've been playing," Stephens said. "Obviously tweak a few things here and there, but pretty much the same thing.

"I mean, I played a lot of matches in the last couple weeks. I can't really change too much. But I'm sure I'll have a good game plan going into it. That will be that."


 

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