NEW YORK, NY, USA - The US Open quarterfinals kick off on Tuesday, with four compelling women in action. In the evening session on Arthur Ashe Stadium, No.9 Venus Williams and No.13 Petra Kvitova face-off in a battle of pure power, while the day session features the first meeting between No.16 seed Anastasija Sevastova and a resurgent No.83 Sloane Stephens.
No.9 Venus Williams vs. No.13 Petra Kvitova (Kvitova leads 4-1)
Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova renew their hotly contested rivalry in the night session on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It's a rivalry that has cruelly yielded just five matches over their careers, a disappointment given each one of their meetings has gone a full three sets. The final set scores of their last three matches: 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(2), all of which went the way of the Czech.
"We always had tough battles," Kvitova said. "But I will try my best. She has a big serve, a big server, of course. She has something special which the other players don't have."
This is the first meeting since 2014 and their first at a Slam since their epic 2014 Wimbledon encounter, which saw just two breaks of serve, one for each woman.
"She is really playing very, very well on the big stages," Kvitova said. "She played the final of the Wimbledon. She's a champion. It's what we all know. Will be a great match for me to step on Ashe again and play there."
Tuesday night's clash pits two of the most inspirational players on tour against each other. For Venus, 15 years after she was part of a group of five American women into the quarterfinals of the US Open, she is the veteran leading a quartet of Americans into the same stage. She does so aged 37 and in the midst of her best Slam season since at least 2008, when she won her last title at Wimbledon. The last time Venus made two Slam finals in a single season was 2003.
And she's doing all this six years after being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that dropped her ranking to as low as No.137 in 2012. As Kvitova said, Venus has shone on the big stages in 2017, compiling 19 wins at the Slams compared to 14 on the WTA Tour.
"I think over time I've learned that I can push myself a lot further than I thought I could," Venus said. "I do have to push myself a lot. I think that's the biggest thing that I've learned. In the beginning, when everything is easy, you're healthy, it's easy to play when you don't have those odds against you. But when you have the odds against you, it's hard to find that in yourself every day."
Kvitova can obviously identify with that sentiment. After a fantastic finish to the 2016 season, the 27-year-old was forced off the tour for five months after being attacked in her home in December. Kvitova suffered deep lacerations to her playing hand, which required immediate and extensive surgery, and she still has yet to regain full feeling and strength in her left hand.
"What she's gone through is unimaginable, unreasonable," Venus said. "The world we live in is just shocking. So for her, I think to be playing well is such a blessing. To be able to come out here and do what she needs to do, to clear her head, it's such a beautiful thing to see. What else can I say except I'm glad to see her back."
Kvitova won her second tournament back, capturing the title in Birmingham in June. And now, after a lackluster summer hardcourt season, she's into her first major quarterfinal since the 2015 US Open. A win would complete her set of Grand Slam semifinals.
"I'm not thinking [that this is a surprise anymore]," Kvitova said. "I think maybe it's a bad sign sometimes, that I should still be more appreciative than I am, probably. But sometimes I just really feel that the touch is there, the strength, the aggressive kind of game plan of it. It's there, which I'm really, really appreciative for that. Took me while to find it. Luckily I find it in a Grand Slam, which is nice."
Venus comes into the quarterfinals after a strong three-set win over Carla Suárez Navarro. Kvitova comes in on the heels of a fascinating straight-set win over No.3 Garbiñe Muguruza. Despite their introverted, quiet personalities, both women have no problem tapping into an extra gear when they face the game's elite in a high-stakes match.
"I do feel a little bit pumped, of course," Kvitova said. "I don't really have the best ranking, but on the other hand I know I can play well. That's how it is.
"I just like to play on the big stages against the great players on the tour. I like those challenges."
No.16 Anastasija Sevastova vs. Sloane Stephens (first meeting)
While Kvitova vs. Venus will feature power vs. power, it's a stark contrast of styles when Anastasija Sevastova takes on Sloane Stephens. A year on from making her first major quarterfinal here, Sevastova is back into the quarterfinals thanks to a smart win over Maria Sharapova in the Round of 16. The crafty Latvian unwound Sharapova's power game with her variety and anticipation and she'll have to employ a similar tactic against the speedy and powerful Stephens.
"She's playing great," Sevastova said. "I haven't seen her play, so I have to check it out on YouTube maybe. I think she's a tough opponent, for sure. Playing at home also. I know that she has a good forehand. That's the only thing I know."
If Sevastova and her team do their research, they'll realize quickly that Stephens is playing some of the best tennis of her career. It's been a stunning comeback for the 24-year-old American, who has risen an astounding 851 spots in the rankings from the beginning August, on the strength of back-to-back semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati. Stephens was sidelined for 10 months after suffering a stress fracture in her foot that required surgery, making her return this summer at Wimbledon.
"When I started playing again at Wimbledon and D.C. I didn't expect much. I was just playing and having fun, having a good time. I'm still playing and having a good time. That's really all there is to it.
"I could never say when I was coming back, 'I'm going to make two semifinals, a quarterfinal.' I would have been like, You're crazy. But I definitely think that, I'm playing well. I think it's more of like putting the matches together, like, that process that makes it a little bit tougher when you're coming back.
"I was lucky able to get a lot of those matches in a row, like in Toronto and Cincinnati back-to-back, which during a comeback is not easy. So I think that's probably where I kind of got a little fortunate there."
Stephens is 12-3 since the start of the summer hardcourt season, taking losses only to WTA World No.2 Simona Halep and No.5 Caroline Wozniacki. Playing in her first Slam quarterfinal since 2013 Wimbledon, a win would put Stephens into her first Slam semifinal since the 2013 Australian Open.