Welcome back to Sunshine Stories, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable matches from the North American spring over the past five years. Moving across the coast, we continue our Miami countdown with a compelling 2018 quarterfinal between Jelena Ostapenko and Elina Svitolina.
HOW THEY GOT THERE: In a draw that had seen its fair share of upsets, No.4 seed Elina Svitolina and No.6 seed Jelena Ostapenko were the only Top 8 seeds to both reach their projected quarterfinal clash at the 2018 Miami Open. For Svitolina, it was a continuation of a brilliant start to the season: the Ukrainian came into the match boasting an 18-3 win-loss record, including two titles - in Brisbane and Dubai - and a maiden run to the Australian Open quarterfinals.
This was also a career-best showing for Svitolina, who had bounced back from a third-round loss to Carla Suárez Navarro in Indian Wells a fortnight previously to score three quality Top 30 wins in Florida - over freshly crowned Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka, No.26 seed Daria Gavrilova and No.21 seed Ashleigh Barty - en route to her first Miami quarterfinal. The 23-year-old had conceded just one set in that run, to Gavrilova - something she had swiftly rectified in posting a 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 win over the Australian.
By contrast, reigning Roland Garros champion Ostapenko had struggled to get her year into gear. The Latvian had come into Miami with a paltry 4-7 win-loss record for 2018, had crashed out in the opening round of Shenzhen, Sydney, Doha and Dubai, and had yet to beat a Top 60 player.
But even in her young career, Ostapenko had already showcased the ability to turn on her scintillating peak form out of nowhere - and that's exactly what the 20-year-old did in Miami. Having defeated Timea Babos and Beatriz Haddad Maia in straight sets in her first two matches, Ostapenko would score her first Top 10 win of the year over No.9 seed Petra Kvitova in the fourth round, holding firm in gusty conditions to overcome the Czech 7-6(4), 6-3. And against Svitolina, she would be bolstered by the memories of a 6-3, 7-6(6) win in their only previous meeting, in the fourth round of Wimbledon the previous year.
WHAT HAPPENED: Ostapenko's ultra-aggressive intent tends to be evident in every match she plays, and two tight but contrasting sets saw it particularly pay off on return as she tallied 44 winners to 42 unforced errors. Teeing off on her opponent's serve at every opportunity, the Latvian was able to keep her nose in front for most of the first set despite Svitolina recapturing three breaks of serve, including levelling at 3-3 from 3-1 down and then scoring a love break when Ostapenko attempted to serve out the set at 5-4.
Spectacular down-the-line winners from Ostapenko had repeatedly punctured Svitolina's defence until this point, but as the Ukrainian clawed back three games in a row to move to a 6-5, 30-30 lead, it seemed as though doggedly clinging on would pay off for her. But with her back to the wall, Ostapenko rose to the challenge. Two blistering backhands forced the tiebreak, and that wing - in conjunction with some delicate finesse - would enable her to dominate it, eventually taking nine of the set's last 12 points.
If Ostapenko's opening set had been characterized by trying to protect her leads, the roles were reversed in the second as she found herself constantly playing catch-up. This time, it was Svitolina who thrice went up a break, building on a stellar start in which upping her own aggression garnered her an immediate 2-0 lead.
But just as Ostapenko had been undaunted by being continually pegged back in the first set, she refused to allow the second to get away from her. More breathtaking returning levelled the set at 3-3 - and when Svitolina attempted to serve it out at 6-5, Ostapenko once again conjured up a series of breathtaking winners to force another tiebreak.
Therein, the younger player jumped out to a 6-2 lead with another flurry of electric baseline hitting - and though Svitolina hung in to save three match points, a raking crosscourt backhand winner put Ostapenko over the line on her fourth to take a 7-6(3), 7-6(5) victory, the first time in her career she had scored back-to-back wins over Top 10 players. Rising to the occasion in tiebreaks would be a theme of Ostapenko's tournament: this match took her record to five won out of five played, and she would add a sixth against Danielle Collins in the semifinals before her streak ended in the final against Sloane Stephens.
WHAT THEY SAID: Ostapenko has always been proud of her offensive approach to the game, and she repeatedly cited this as the key to her win. "Before the match I knew that I have to be very aggressive, and when I had a chance, I was going for it," she said. "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."
The briefest of nods to a different strategy - "I'm trying to be more consistent" - swiftly gave way to another heartfelt paean to her winner-oriented mindset: "I think this tournament I'm playing more aggressive, which is helping me. I'm not afraid to miss the ball. So like today also I was more aggressive, and I think that helped me to win the match." Ostapenko even went on to suggest that some of her poor form had been due to backing off - "I was trying to play more balls in the court and without any aggressivity," she explained with some distaste. A return to her natural instincts had paid off both in terms of personal satisfaction and the end result: "But now I think I really go for the shot when I need to and I'm not afraid to risk," she smiled.
Svitolina, paying tribute to her opponent, concurred, with particular reference to the biggest points of the match: "Few deciding points that I didn't go for my shots or I didn't play the right way, and then she played three, four unbelievable winners... I was not there and she was playing unbelievable shots. You know, so many balls on the line from her. She really made so many winners."
WHAT IT MEANT: Ostapenko would go on to reach the final, defeating Danielle Collins in the semifinals before falling 7-6(5), 6-1 to Sloane Stephens - a clash between two of the previous year's first-time Grand Slam champions that went some way to shaking off any doubts as to their ability to replicate that form.
Since then, though, Ostapenko's career arc has continued to take the form of a rollercoaster: as the defending champion at Roland Garros, she crashed out in the first round to Kateryna Kozlova - but rebounded a month later to make her second major semifinal at Wimbledon. An extended slump in 2019 saw her ranking slip to World No.83 by the following July, though - only for the 22-year-old to catch fire indoors at the end of the season, reaching the Linz final and lifting her third career trophy in Luxembourg to storm back into the Top 50.
Svitolina, meanwhile, would shake off the loss to go on to a career-best year-end ranking of World No.4, bolstered by a successful title defence in Rome in May and the biggest trophy of her career to date at the WTA Finals in Singapore to round off the season. In the process, she would augment her reputation as one of the Tour's best performers in finals, extending her winning streak in title matches to nine with her defeat of Stephens in Singapore.
A Grand Slam semifinal remained elusive for Svitolina in 2018 - but the following year she would rectify that in style with last-four runs at both Wimbledon and the US Open, though she would ironically go titleless for the first time in a season since 2012. In addition, 2019 would also see some belated revenge for Svitolina, who defeated Ostapenko for the first time at the third attempt in the second round of Doha in February.