WUHAN, China - No.8 seed Jelena Ostapenko overcame a mid-match lapse, service wobbles and the spirited challenge of qualifier Monica Puig to make the quarterfinals of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open for the first time, winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
After building a 5-1 lead in the final set, the French Open champion nearly saw her advantage disappear, as Puig broke her when she first served for the last eight, and held two break points to get the decider back on serve.
"It's a great win today for me. It was a very tough match and Monica was playing very well, but I'm really happy to win the match," Ostapenko said after the match. "I was serving very well the whole match, had a lot of aces, but [in the last] two games, I couldn't really serve for the match.
"It was a little more in my mind [at the end] because I was serving well today. Sometimes I think I made the wrong decisions, so I just wanted to calm down and make the right decision next time."
Champion at the KEB Hana Bank-Incheon Airport Korea Open in Seoul last week, Ostapenko came into today's third-round encounter riding a six-match winning streak, the second longest of her career so far.
"I prepared very well for the tournaments [in Asia], training a lot, doing fitness and all that stuff," the World No.10 said of her recent streak. "I won in Seoul, so that gave me confidence, and now I think I'm playing better."
In the first set, the Latvian lived up to that form in spectacular fashion, striking 15 winners and capturing 100% of the points on her first serve to run away with her fifth set out of five against Puig, 6-2.
The Roland Garros champion was able to open up the court with angled groundstrokes with ease and displayed superb reflexes from the baseline to take her Puerto Rican opponent's power and redirect it.
Ostapenko was able to up her level to emerge from almost every potential sticky situation: a brilliant backhand crosscourt winner erased a break point in the second game, and a carefully constructed point with extra margin after a third double fault had brought the fourth game to 30-30.
Ostapenko's perfectionist reputation caught up with her in the second set, though, and was responsible for something of an unravelling. Puig, who improved all of her serving stats from the opener, saved the first break point of the set in the third game with an excellent deep serve, and two deuces later had held for a 2-1 lead.
While the Puerto Rican took a medical timeout at the next change of ends, Ostapenko brought coach Anabel Medina Garrigues down for an on-court coaching session in which she revealed that the missed opportunity was still preying on her mind.
The next three games went by in a flash as the 20-year-old committed a flurry of loose errors - she would hit 14 in total in the second set as Puig, serving well and striking deep groundstrokes, won 14 out of 16 points to move up 5-1.
Ostapenko, upping the ferocity of her hitting, denied the World No.77 as she attempted to serve it out for the first time, but Puig made no mistake the next time as she sealed her first set over the Latvian to love - giving the 2016 Olympic gold medalist something to celebrate on her 24th birthday.
The range that Ostapenko regained at the end of that second set proved key, as the World No.10 was able began the decider with renewed positivity and accuracy, withstanding a thudding forehand-to-forehand rally before breaking in the fourth game courtesy of Puig's fourth double fault.
Two games later, Ostapenko showcased her hustle and anticipation en route to breaking the 24-year-old for a second time - but a comfortable 5-1 lead wasn't the end of the match's drama.
Ostapenko's serve had been erratic throughout the match, but deserted her almost completely in its final stages as the No.8 seed offered up a trio of double faults to get broken to love while serving for the match at 5-1 - and then, remarkably, another trio at 5-3 to bring her total up to 10. But Ostapenko has never been a player to let such setbacks inhibit her, and despite her travails she managed to find her best serves in the nick of time.
An 11th ace saved a break point for Puig to pull back to 5-4, and a huge service winner down the T sealed the victory for Ostapenko on her first match point.
After Garbiñe Muguruza rallied for a three-set win over Magda Linette, two of the year's four Grand Slam champions will face off in the quarterfinals with a spot in the last four on the line.
"I've played her two times," Ostapenko said of the Wimbledon champion, against whom she is 0-2 but with both matches coming on clay. "If I play my best, anything can happen."