Playing her first tournament since April, Agnieszka Radwanska has reached the semifinals of the Nature Valley International with a straight-sets upset of Jelena Ostapenko.
Alex Macpherson
June 28, 2018

EASTBOURNE, Great Britain - In the two years since their previous encounter, Agnieszka Radwanska and No.5 seed Jelena Ostapenko's roles have been reversed on paper - but the unseeded Pole was once again the victor on court, coming through their Nature Valley International quarterfinal 6-2, 7-5.

This week marks Radwanska's return to action for the first time since retiring in the first round of Istanbul to Donna Vekic in April, and the 29-year-old has seen her ranking slip to World No.31 after two months on the sidelines to recovery from back and hip injuries. The 2012 Wimbledon finalist's beloved grass has served her well, though - and sees her into her first semifinal since New Haven last August.

Not that Radwanska was necessarily expecting this deep a run. "I took only three dresses with me - [I thought] it's enough for sure," she laughed afterwards. "I thought maybe one or two matches at the most - especially as I'm unseeded."

Neither does the 2008 champion feel rusty. "I just feel like I didn't have that two or three months' rest from the matches - I really feel good," she enthused. "I think the rest did a good job for me. I'm relaxed and more healthy, for sure. Fresh, I guess. That's also important, you know, to be fresh. Then you're motivated more."

Read more: Returning Radwanska ready to restart after injury woes

New Haven was also the site of Radwanska's last match against the Latvian - back in 2016 when, as the World No.4 and No.1 seed, she beat the No.39-ranked Ostapenko 7-5, 6-1 in the second round en route to winning the title.

It was the 2017 Roland Garros champion who made her mark first today, striking four forehand winners in the first three games - and even throwing in some unexpected variety with a dropshot en route to breaking Radwanska to go up 2-1. However, the ever-fluctuating oscillations of Ostapenko's game swung the other way immediately, with a double fault and three errors gifting the break back.

The 21-year-old's serve has long been one of her vulnerabilities, and so it proved again today. Ostapenko served at least one double fault in each of her first five service games, including down break point in the sixth game and down set point two games later. By contrast, Radwanska would protect her serve efficiently throughout the first set, varying her delivery smartly and - aside from that one blip - conceding only two further points when she stepped up to the line.

Ostapenko, whose frustration was encapsulated in her expression as she left a Radwanska lob that dropped in, would rack up 16 unforced errors to just five winners in the first set, and the former World No.2 rode this momentum to a break lead in the second.

From 0-2 down, though, the Miami runner-up began to display some of her most indomitable battling qualities. Halting her downward spiral and cutting out her double faults, Ostapenko was able to transform her play into, if not an entirely clean performance, a tightrope walk between breathtaking winners and careless errors. Booming backhand return winners seized the break back as she began to get a handle on the Radwanska serve; brave forehands saved three break points in the next game to draw level at 2-2.

The 2008 Eastbourne champion has dealt with many a hot-and-cold power player in her time, though, and remained unfazed, patiently absorbing Ostapenko's pace and making her play extra shots to break once more for 4-2. "She was very aggressive, especially in that second set," Radwanska noted afterwards. "Sometimes she was even too powerful and even going 100% for my first serve. I'm just happy I could be better on those one or two points in that second set."

Last year's Wimbledon quarterfinalist came roaring back again, though, reeling off three consecutive games and delivering hammer blows with her forehand to serve for the set.

It was at this untimely point that the Ostapenko rollercoaster began to freefall again, though. Three loose errors and another double fault, and the chance to square the match had slipped from her grasp - and two games later, a wild backhand wide of the tramlines sealed a confidence-building victory for Radwanska.

Afterwards, the older player reflected on the unique game style that has served her well for over a decade on Tour: "I'm not going to change my game," she declared. "Even if I wanted to, there is no chance I'm going to hit as powerful as the other ones. So that's the way I play. I can always try to be more aggressive on the court, but I'm never gonna serve or, you know, hit a forehand like those couple of girls bombing those balls. "

The Pole will now take on one of those very ball-bombing players in the powerful Aryna Sabalenka in a bid to make her first final since Sydney in January 2017.