NEW YORK, NY, USA - For the top seeds preparing for the final major tournament of 2019, Jana Cepelova would be one early round opponent they might be hoping to avoid at the US Open.
Ranked as high as World No.50 five years ago, Cepelova made waves at back-to-back Wimbledon Championships when she shocked future winners Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza in 2015 and 2016, respectively. In a breakout 2014 season, she upset then-World No.1 Serena Williams en route to the finals of the Volvo Car Open.
A flurry of injuries have halted her progress since - including rib, elbow, and neck - and the Slovak has been out of Grand Slam main draw contention since the 2018 Australian Open.
"When you’ve had injuries and you’re at home and cannot compete, it’s tough," she said after winning over qualifying's No.3 seed Irina-Camelia Begu, "and I’m just happy to be able to play – even if it’s in qualies!"
Ranked as low as No.273 last summer, Cepelova is undaunted by the setbacks; healthy and hard-hitting as ever, the 26-year-old scored an impressive victory over Begu, a former World No.22 who herself is in the midst of working her way back up the WTA rankings.
"I’m trying to have fun in each match, and if I can make the main draw, it would be really cool. Of course, it’s my target to return to the main draw, but we will see how it goes."
Cepelova was seamless on Court 4; in a match that could have easily been a main draw encounter 18 months ago, she hit through the windy conditions to score a fourth straight win over the Romanian, 6-3, 6-2.
"I played three times against her before, and I was a little bit confident because of this. I’m really happy that I won because I played really well and hopefully I will play my next match like that.
"Sometimes it’s windy, and we have to get used to it. The bigger problem here is the humidity, rather than the wind."
With Australia's Jaimee Fourlis or Ludmilla Samsonova standing between her and a first US Open main draw since 2017, Cepelova has been in this position before, falling just one match shy of the Wimbledon main draw just two months ago.
This time around, she has opted to keep things light in her off-time, enjoying the sights and New York City skyline with her boyfriend.
"We’re very much spending a lot of time in Manhattan. We’ve gone to Central Park, and just done everything we could do here!"