NEW YORK, NY, USA - It’s a new US Open and Anastasija Sevastova doesn’t feel any different.
A year removed from her major breakthrough in Flushing Meadows, where she upset Garbiñe Muguruza and Johanna Konta en route to the quarterfinals, you’d be hard pressed to find the last remaining Latvian feeling too much pressure about backing up her career-best result.
“I don’t think much about points because I’ve had a pretty good season, and I’m playing pretty solid at every tournament,” she said after a straight-sets win over Donna Vekic on Friday. “It’s not like I’m losing everywhere in the first round, or winning matches in some, losing early in others.”
Indeed, Sevastova has enjoyed a stealthily solid 2017 season, reaching the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and the Mutua Madrid Open before winning her first title in seven years - the first of her second career - at the Mallorca Open.
“I knew my level was good. I lost a couple matches in the beginning of the year that were so close. When you lose, you’re less confident, but I still believed because practices were going well. I knew the results would come.
“I start every year with the mentality that you have zero points. I don’t think about how one week I’m going to lose 100 points from last year, or 500 the next. Everything starts from zero for me.
“Coming back to the US Open, I knew I played well here last year, so I could do it again. That wasn’t a problem, and I wasn’t thinking about points, but every round is tough.”
Things haven’t been too tough in her first Grand Slam as a Top 16 seed, navigating past tricky opponents like Carina Witthoeft, Kateryna Kozlova, and Vekic, who had been in the midst of a summer surge after pushing Konta to three sets at Wimbledon.
“I started pretty well,” Sevastova said of the Grandstand clash. “It was competitive in the beginning, but I just hung in there and moved well. I know how she plays because we’ve practiced a couple of times together, and I just got the better of it. It all worked pretty well, mixing it up.”
The fast-talking 27-year-old admitted a rare moment of fragility when it came time to close it out, nearly letting Vekic back into the match from a set and 5-0 up.
“It probably should have been 6-1 in the second set because I was totally in control, but I’m not a robot. Maybe some thoughts came into my mind, and she served a few good games, broke me, and I got a little bit tight.”
Some of those thoughts crept into her game back in the spring, taking a short-circuiting loss to Petra Martic in the third round of Roland Garros, an event where few had higher hopes than Sevastova herself.
“I was always thinking clay would be where I’d have my best Slam results, but I also put most of my expectations there. That makes me play worse there than here in New York, but I think I like the courts, how the ball moves.
“It’s pretty fast, and I move pretty well, play my slice. I return well. It all comes together, but it’s not easy to play here. You have to be ready to play.”
Play, that is, through all the elements the last major tournament of the season can throw at a player, from blistering heat, to the chilly weather the athletes have endured this week, to the dastardly commute, which comes with the territory of staying in a city that never sleeps.
“New York is a hard city to live in. When you’re only there two weeks, it’s great, but living here would be tougher. It’d get to you, and make you tired.
“Sometimes you can’t sleep because it’s so loud in your room from all the noise outside! But it’s New York and you come to expect these sorts of things.”
Nothing is too big or fantastic for the ever-grounded Sevastova, who let out a “How close?” tinged with a mix of sarcasm and disbelief when told of her chances to qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, going on to joke about her disappointing Asian Swing last fall.
“I don’t think about Singapore, and I’d be happy with Zhuhai, maybe. I might not be so happy because it’d be two weeks after Moscow, but before that, there’s Beijing, Wuhan, Tokyo, and this tournament. There’s still a lot of points, so I can, but a lot of other players can, too.”
A return to the last eight in Flushing would give those Singapore hopes a boost, but she will face her biggest test yet in 2006 champion Maria Sharapova, whom she’ll face on Sunday.