Jelena Ostapenko played and won her first match since becoming the first Latvian woman to crack the Top 10 on Tuesday, surviving a tense opening set to dispatch Johanna Larsson, 7-6(6), 6-1, and reach the second round at the KEB Hana Bank-Incheon Airport Korea Open.
Ostapenko improves to 2-0 against the crafty Swede, but admitted to being in a very different place to their last meeting at the 2016 ASB Classic.
"I won like, 6-1, 7-5, but today she was playing much better today," the top seed said in her post-match press conference. "I’m a Top 10 player now, and players really have nothing to lose against me. They try to show their best because they have less pressure. I’m a favorite to win this tournament so I have to prepare well and play my best."
In the 22 months since their first match, Ostapenko made a Premier 5 final at the Qatar Total Open, finished runner-up at the Volvo Car Open, and, oh yeah, became the youngest woman in over a decade to capture a Grand Slam title at the French Open - turning 20 during a fortnight that saw her deny Simona Halep the No.1 ranking in three dramatic sets.
The funny thing about tennis? None of that mattered once play began on Seoul's Centre Court, where Larsson dominated the early stages, dropping just two points behind her first serve.
"She was serving so well that I couldn’t break. There were some tough games on my serve, especially at 5-5, but I won that game."
Saving the only break point of the opening set with a deep second serve, Ostapenko's aggressive style - one that a Korean journalist told her has earned her a nickname that literally translates to "Attack!" - took her through the tie-break, striking three winners and pressuring Larsson into errors to take the set in 54 minutes.
"In the tie-break, I was fighting to the end. I was just trying to focus on my game, play every ball, without thinking about anything.
"Winning the first set definitely gave me confidence."
What followed was about as breathless as the answers she often gives press, as Ostapenko took 29 minutes to complete the win over Larsson. The crowd roared as she struck her 27th winner of the match, a searing forehand up the line.
"I think they were saying 'Osta!' - not the whole name, like Ostapenko - but they were cheering more for me, and that was really nice," she said of the Seoul support.
"One of my fans gave me flowers, and the other day, when I had a meeting with my fans in the Adidas shop, I got a Korean pillow. It was really nice!"
Next up for the World No.10 is Nao Hibino, who stands between the Latvian and a seventh WTA quarterfinal of 2017. Ranked No.8 on the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard, Ostapenko is in with a shot to make her debut appearance at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, but with one of the game's biggest titles already in her pocket, the youngster has her eyes firmly towards the future.
"The most important thing is to win Grand Slams. That’s what all players want to do, so I’ll keep working towards that. I want to be higher in the rankings, but if I play well and keep winning, the ranking will come, which it has - now I’m in the Top 10. All I have to do is play my best and work hard."