NEW YORK, NY, USA -- No.10 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia survived a spirited challenge from American Taylor Townsend at the US Open on Thursday, ultimately prevailing 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to move into the third round for the second straight year.
"I think in first set, I was struggling a bit," Ostapenko stated during her post-match press conference. "Then in the second and third set, I started to play more confident. Actually, I started to play more aggressive and to hit more winners. That helped me to win."
2017 Roland Garros champion Ostapenko has now won her last seven second-round encounters at Grand Slam events dating back to the 2015 US Open, but she needed to work extremely hard against World No.73 Townsend, edging the American after two hours and 18 minutes of play.
"I was expecting [Townsend] to play this way," said Ostapenko. "I mean, she was moving really well today. She was almost getting all the balls. So I had to go for, like, crazy shots to make winners."
The 21-year-old Latvian, who reached the semifinals at Wimbledon earlier this summer, prevailed despite 15 double faults, as she blasted her high-risk groundstrokes from all sectors of the court, ending the match with a whopping 52 winners and 47 unforced errors.
Ostapenko will now face either 2006 US Open champion Maria Sharapova of Russia or Romania's Sorana Cirstea in the third round.
"Sorana is my best friend on tour, I played her a couple of times," said Ostapenko. "She's also a very good player. She can play very well, on a very high level. Maria, yeah, I played her in Rome this year. It was a very long match. I kind of know how she plays. Just looking forward to the match."
Townsend started the match by breaking Ostapenko, before the Latvian pulled back level at 2-2 following a long Townsend forehand while down break point. But the American went up a break again in the next game by going for broke on her service returns, and she was rewarded by maneuvering through a lengthy game when Ostapenko double faulted on the fifth break point of the game.
Townsend fully grasped the momentum after that, holding for 4-2 after a powerful game which featured the American reaching triple game point with an ace, and converting the first with a strong volley for a winner.
Ostapenko held her next two service games with ease, including an ace to pull her to 4-5, but she was unable to regain any footing on the American’s service games. Serving for the set, Townsend quickly reached triple game point, then picked up the one-set lead via a powerful backhand which was too much for the No.10 seed.
However, Ostapenko drew first blood in the second set, claiming the first break of the frame to lead 4-2 after Townsend sent a forehand miscue long. The American tried to get back on serve in the next game, having a 0-30 advantage, but Ostapenko dragged her way through that game via her penetrating backhand to reach 5-2.
Ostapenko powered a backhand winner to reach set point on Townsend’s serve in the following game, but the intelligent American carved her way to a hold, forcing Ostapenko to serve out the set at 5-3. Ostapenko double faulted away a second set point, but the Latvian garnered a third, and after a long return by Townsend, the match was tied at one set apiece.
Ostapenko came back from the 10-minute heat break with sturdy intentions, breaking immediately for the 1-0 lead via a backhand crosscourt winner. But Townsend was hardly done, thrilling the crowd by persevering through a long game to pull back to 3-3 -- Ostapenko had three double faults in that game, which Townsend took after a backhand error by the Latvian.
After strong holds by both players to reach 4-4, the rocket groundstrokes of Ostapenko started to fully click, and on her second break point of that game, the 2017 Roland Garros victor crushed a service return, forcing Townsend to net an error for a pivotal 5-4 lead and a chance to close out the grueling encounter.
Ostapenko reeled off some of her biggest backhands in the final game, knocking off two winners from that side in a row to move from 15-15 to double match point. On her first chance, another stunning backhand forced a wide error from Townsend, giving Ostapenko the win after a stern challenge from an extremely dangerous opponent.