There are times when you’re not feeling your best, situations that call for improvisation, fortitude and a certain degree of denial.
This was Jelena Ostapenko’s plight when she took to the court for her first match at the Miami Open against qualifier Mirjam Bjorklund.
“I was sick in Indian Wells,” Ostapenko said afterward. “I was really worried. I had an x-ray of my lungs. I had to take antibiotics. Always not easy when you cannot practice for five days. Then to come here and play someone who already played three matches. She got the feeling of the court.”
And while Ostapenko clearly wasn’t feeling it, she found a way to win, 6-3, 6-4.
“I didn’t play my best, obviously,” Ostapenko said, “because of recovering from the cold or the flu, whatever it was. In the deciding moments, I felt like I was playing more like a Top 20 player -- and that’s what helped me.”
Ostapenko isn’t quite a Top 20 player at the moment (No.22), but she will need to channel that belief in Saturday’s third-round match against No.13 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia. The top quarter of the draw opened up when World No.1 Iga Swiatek withdrew with a rib injury. The winner will instead face either No.25 seed Martina Trevisan or Claire Liu.
Ostapenko, now 25, has a quirky history of confounding those who would underestimate her. The Latvian won her first title at the Hologic WTA Tour level as a 20-year-old, which happened to be the 2017 French Open.
One month later, on a completely different surface, she was playing in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. A year later, she reached the semifinals. Back in January, playing her eighth Australian Open, she advanced to the quarters, a career best.
Expectations for the meeting with Haddad Maia, who is a sprightly 11-6 this year?
“Honestly, not really,” Ostapenko said. “I’m trying not to put any pressure on myself. Most important was to recover. It still needs some time.”
She owns a 3-0 head-to-head advantage over the Brazilian, most recently last year in Cincinnati. Five years ago, they also played a third-round match here, with Ostapenko prevailing in straight sets.
Other notable third-round matches from the draw’s top half:
No.3 Jessica Pegula vs. No.20 Danielle Collins
Their first official meeting came 11 years ago at an ITF $100,000 event in Midland, Michigan, when they were still teenagers. Today they are both Top 30 players.
#BillsMafia has landed in Miami 🎾🤝🏈— wta (@WTA) March 23, 2023
World No. 3 @JLPegula meets @kaiirelam5 & @DDawkins66 of the @BuffaloBills after her win!#MiamiOpen pic.twitter.com/kq5ZRjmPFJ
Pegula won that match between Americans -- and the two that followed on the WTA Tour, most recently in the 2021 Montreal fourth round. Pegula, off to a 16-5 start, has the edge on Collins, who is 9-8 this season after defeating Viktoriya Tomova in the second round.
No.6 Coco Gauff vs. No.27 Anastasia Potapova
Gauff, who just turned 19, and Potapova, 21, are two of the youngest players (along with Iga Swiatek and Zheng Qinwen) in the Top 30.
While Gauff, at 15-4 for the year, is more of a known quantity, Potapova has thrived this season, winning the title in Linz, defeating Petra Martic in the final, and compiling a 13-7 record.
They’ve already played twice, with Gauff taking both -- in the 2019 US Open in three sets and two years ago in Montreal via retirement.
No.10 Elena Rybakina vs. No.21 Paula Badosa
Like Ostapenko, Rybakina was a little out of sorts in her first match in Miami. Four days after winning the BNP Paribas Open title, she was more than 2,500 miles east trading shots with Anna Kalinskaya, a familiar foe all the way back to juniors.
Rybakina trailed 5-3 in the opening set, then rallied to win four straight games. Ultimately, she was a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 winner, but the result again underlined how difficult it is to achieve the Sunshine Double, back-to-back crowns at Indian Wells and Miami.
Badosa is ranked No.29 but less than a year ago she was at a career-high No.2. She defeated Laura Siegemund 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-2, a match that featured a fun hit with a ball person during an extended medical timeout by Siegemund.
This is the second time they’re meeting in a span of 12 days. Rybakina won in straight sets in an Indian Wells third-rounder.
No.14 Victoria Azarenka vs. No.20 Magda Linette
The three-time Miami champion had no trouble with Camila Giorgi, advancing to this third-round match with the loss of only four games. Linette handled Evgeniya Rodina in straight sets.
Hard to believe that, at 33, Azarenka is the oldest player ranked among the Top 25, but she’s still got game. A decade after winning back-to-back titles at the Australian Open in 2013, she made it all the way to the semifinals in Melbourne before falling to Rybakina.
Azarenka holds a 2-0 head-to-head edge with the first victory coming here in 2016 on the way to winning the Sunshine Double.
No.29 Petra Martic vs. Elise Mertens
Mertens impressively took down No.8 seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, while Martic was a 6-3, 6-3 winner over Wang Xiyu.
Ranked No.39, two spots ahead of Martic, Mertens recently reached the semifinals in Monterrey. Martic was a finalist in Linz back in February.
Mertens has won all three of the matches they’ve played.