NEW YORK • Anastasija Sevastova never dreamt when she returned in 2015 from a near two-year retirement that she would be playing in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam.
But that is exactly where the 19th-seeded Latvian is headed after toppling last year's champion Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday to seal her spot in the last four.
"It was an amazing journey these three, four years," said Sevastova, who temporarily retired in 2013 after a string of injuries and illness.
She came back in January 2015, winning the first tournament she entered, an International Tennis Federation event in Egypt and earned US$1,568 (S$2,160). She will receive at least US$925,000 for her performances here in New York.
"I had not done many goals (upon returning). Maybe top 100. I was thinking, okay, maybe a couple of years, play top 100."
Such a run seemed unlikely when the 28-year-old made her comeback in 2015, finally healed from a litany of injuries that included debilitating back trouble. "But now, obviously when you win more, you have higher goals," she added.
Combined ranking of 19th seed Anastasija Sevastova's last two opponents: Elina Svitolina (seven) in the last 16 and Sloane Stephens (three) in the last eight.
At the 2016 US Open, she stunned experts and players alike at Flushing Meadows when she beat Spaniard Garbine Muguruza and 13th seed Johanna Konta of Britain to reach the quarter-finals.
She reached the last eight again last year when she lost to Stephens. She earned her second career title - and first in seven years - at Mallorca last year - finishing the season ranked 16th in the world.
This year, she won the Bucharest Open, once again showing that her injury problems are behind her.
Although she is playing better than ever now, she said she is simply trying to enjoy her game.
"You have to appreciate it more," she said. "You have to see that what you're doing, it's like a privilege. So try to keep it low key and enjoy it."
DAY 9 SELECTED RESULTS
Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt Dominic Thiem (Aut) 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-5), Juan Martin del Potro (Arg) bt John Isner (USA) 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-2.
Serena Williams (USA) bt Karolina Pliskova (Cze) 6-4 6-3, Anastasija Sevastova (Lat) bt Sloane Stephens (USA) 6-2 6-3.
But with 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams looming, Sevastova said she did not have time to reflect on her rise in the second phase of her career.
"In the end it's amazing, you can't believe it. After I stop at some point I will look at it and I will be proud of myself for sure," she said.
She added she would not look too far ahead, with the chance of her finishing the week a Grand Slam champion coming within grasp.
"There is still semi-finals," she said. "It's still long way to go."
Stephens, with her dream of a title repeat in tatters, was looking ahead to the WTA's Asian swing as a chance to regroup.
Playing in punishing heat and humidity, with a sinus infection that has plagued her since the tournament began, she shied away from excuses, saying she was just not good enough to win.
"I didn't play my best," she said. "I wish I could have played better, but it just wasn't the day.
"Obviously defending a title is very hard. So I'm not going to dwell on it. Just keep building.
"There's four more tournaments left. I'm just going to try to play the rest of the season as hard as I can and hopefully have some more good results.
"I hope that I can go to Asia and win some more matches and hopefully make the year end (finals) and hopefully keep going as far as I can."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES
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