Jelena Ostapenko attained a season-best performance at the Viking International on Thursday, as the Latvian overcame Daria Kasatkina 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the Eastbourne semifinals.
"The main thing, probably I was playing more aggressive today and tried to put as much pressure as possible on her," Ostapenko said in her post-match press conference. "In the second set I was fighting very hard to win it. I think in the third set I already found my game and played much better."
With her one-hour and 46-minute victory, 2017 Roland Garros champion Ostapenko finds herself into her first tour-level semifinal since her title-winning run in Luxembourg at the very tail end of 2019.
Ostapenko thus improved to 3-2 against 34th-ranked Kasatkina, ending a two-match losing streak against the Russian. Two of Ostapenko’s victories over Kasatkina have come on the grass of Eastbourne, with another one occurring in the 2016 opening round.
Each player broke serve seven times in the affair, but the aggressive play by former Top 5 player Ostapenko prevailed in the end, with 38 winners leading her to victory.
Kasatkina has still won six of her eight matches on grass this season, including a trip to her first grass-court singles final just last week in Birmingham.
World No.43 Ostapenko has now bested her previous best Eastbourne result, which was a quarterfinal showing in 2018. Ostapenko followed up that run with a trip to the 2018 Wimbledon semifinals the very next week.
"I get very excited, but when it starts I get very sad because it's very short, the grass season," said Ostapenko, who also won the junior Wimbledon singles title in 2014. "I wish it could be longer, because I love to play on grass."
Kasatkina broke Ostapenko four times in the opening frame to take the one-set lead, but Ostapenko powered her way into the match during the highly competitive second set. Ostapenko was up a break three separate times in that stanza, and a hold at 6-5 at last gave her the set, in which she out-winnered Kasatkina by 19 to seven.
Ostapenko took the lead for good by breaking Kasatkina with a fierce forehand for a 3-2 lead in the decider. A winning backhand pass by Ostapenko punctuated another service break for a 5-2 lead, and she eased to victory from there, wrapping up the win on her second match point with a rally forehand winner.
"I think when I find my game, like in the third set today, and when I play aggressive and I play well, I think it suits my game very well, the grass court," Ostapenko said, as she moves into a semifinal meeting with Elena Rybakina.
Rybakina of Kazakhstan took two-and-a-half hours to quash the challenge from another Latvian, lucky loser Anastasija Sevastova, before prevailing 2-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5).
"It was not easy at all," Rybakina said, after her win. "She played also well, we were fighting every point, so it was really difficult."
World No.21 Rybakina saved two match points in the second-set tiebreak before gritting out a down-to-the-wire victory and moving into her first semifinal of the season. Rybakina is also the last of this year's nine Eastbourne debutantes left standing.
After Sevastova charged through the opening set, Rybakina had an early chance to level the match in the second set, holding a set point at 5-4 before misfiring on a return. Sevastova then attempted to serve out the match at 6-5, but Rybakina fired a ferocious forehand winner to break serve and move the second set into a tiebreak.
In the second-set breaker, Rybakina saw a 3-0 lead dissipate as Sevastova drew errors from the Kazakh to reach double match point at 6-4. But Rybakina's power hitting helped her escape from peril, and she won five of the last six points in the tiebreak, culminating with a strong, unreturned serve.
Rybakina said that she "was not thinking about the score" as she faced down the pair of match points. "I was just focusing point by point, and it worked out."
Both players were steely in the final set through 5-5, with zero break points on offer up to that juncture. Rybakina then got her chance to serve for the match after a break for 6-5, but backhand miscues allowed Sevastova back into the match as a decisive final-set tiebreak would settle affairs.
Rybakina again built a 3-0 lead in the tiebreak, but Sevastova once more steered her way back in, reaching 5-5. However, Rybakina slammed an ace to garner her first match point at 6-5, and she converted her chance with a pinpoint forehand winner down the line.