NEW YORK, NY, USA - Former World No.1 Maria Sharapova maintained her mastery over 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, outpowering the No.10 seed, 6-3, 6-2 to reach the second week of the US Open for a second straight year.
"I knew that I needed to have a better performance than my previous round," Sharapova said in her post-match press conference. "I did just enough to win that previous match. I finished off strong."
In a rematch of their Internazionli BNL d'Italia thriller back in May, the 2006 champion won a 23rd straight match under the lights in Flushing Meadows, playing consistent tennis to unseat the Latvian after 82 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I don't remember how old I was when I played my first night match, but I'm sure I was young enough to still be intimidated by the city and the lights and the atmosphere, the noise, as anyone that's quite young would be. But I really turned that around. I think I thrive on that.
"I love the atmosphere. I love that they know how to cheer hard. Some of the loudest crowds I think was when I played Clijsters on 2005. I lost that match, but I remember just coming back and feeling the support from the crowd. I didn't play my best tennis, but that was, like, one of the matches in my career where I felt how the fans really lifted my level up. I thrive on playing under the lights for some reason. I love that. I love that challenge."
It appeared the crowd would be in for another classic when the pair opened with a 12-minute opening service game, one where Ostapenko saved five break points to hold.
"I think, despite going into a really long first game, I thought, 'If this is the length of time she'll have to work for one game and win it...' I just went to my service game with that perspective. I felt pretty confident throughout. I hit quite well, served much better. I think putting all those things together gave me a good enough scoreline."
Sharapova quickly took control from there, winning five straight games as the 21-year-old struggled to find her range. She briefly pegged the Russian back to within one break - saving a set point at 1-5 - but Sharapova held firm, breaking for a third time to capture the opening set.
Semifinalist at Wimbledon, Ostapenko began set two on more sure footing, twice leading Sharapova by a break as she attempted to elongate the rallies.
Ultimately, Sharapova proved unfazed, leveling the set each time and riding that momentum through the final five games and into the fourth round.
In all, Sharapova's experience came through on Saturday night, striking 11 winners to just 18 unforced errors, converting seven of 17 break point opportunities. Ostapenko, by contrast, ended the match with 41 unforced errors and 10 winners.
"Everything was pretty good before the match," Ostapenko said. "Then I went on court, I think in first game I played okay, then something like everything just went wrong way. I was still trying, but I just made so many unforced errors. It was just not my day today."
Up next for the five-time Grand Slam champion is No.30 seed, Carla Suárez Navarro, who upset No.6 seed Caroline Garcia, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(4) earlier in the day on Court 17.
"In terms of what I do in order to prepare, how I go about the tournament, that doesn't change. I think there are a lot of things outside of the court, whether it's the media, whether it's people, whether it's opinions or fans, favorites. Those have never really been in my control.
"As long as I'm showing up and I'm putting myself out there and training, putting in the effort, I think that's all that really matters from my end. As far as everything else, you all know there's very little that we can control."