NEW YORK: Latvian tennis player Anastasija Sevastova wore a Yankees cap to her news conference after she reached her first major quarterfinal.
She bought it in Europe, not because she's a baseball fan, but simply because she likes the interlocking "NY" logo. Turns out, though, that New York is proving a very special place for an athlete who was retired at this time two years ago.
In her second big upset of this U.S. Open, Sevastova beat 13th-seeded Johanna Konta 6-4, 7-5 on Sunday to become the first Latvian woman to make the final eight at a Grand Slam since Larisa Savchenko in 1994.
"I still cannot believe it," she said. "Mentally I'm spent. Totally spent. But it's amazing."
Sevastova's previous best showing at a major was a round of 16 appearance at the 2011 Australian Open. But after a series of injuries that drained the fun out of tennis, she retired in 2013.
During her break of nearly two years, Sevastova took classes in Austria in "leisure management" — studying accounting and marketing in hopes of perhaps going into sports management.
When her health improved, she came out of retirement at the start of last season, never expecting she'd be making a deep run at a Grand Slam so soon.
"I'm playing better in my second career right now," she said. "I'm handling pressure sometimes better than before."
She's more mature, both mentally and physically, Sevastova said. And it also helped that "I saw that there is life without tennis."
As in her second-round upset of third-seeded Garbine Muguruza, Sevastova wobbled under the pressure at first, failing to serve out the match. But as in that victory over the French Open champ, she finally closed out the win with a service break.
"I'm telling myself, 'It's a match point — you can do it. Oh, you lost it or you cannot do it. Maybe it's a third set,'" she said of the thoughts swirling through her head. "It goes on and on. But in the end I just stop thinking and I just try to play tennis. Just try to close it out. Just to look at the ball and just see how it goes."
Sevastova broke Konta seven times in 11 service games.
Konta, an Australian Open semifinalist, collapsed to the court with trouble breathing during her second-round match, but she said there weren't any significant lingering issues Sunday. Fatigue was a bigger factor — she's played 18 matches since the end of Wimbledon.
Sevastova, who's ranked 48th, was such an unknown coming into the U.S. Open that initially her picture wasn't included in the official tournament app as with other players. She said she wasn't upset because she didn't like the old photo that would have been used. The situation has now been remedied with an updated shot.
She describes herself as a C- or D-list celebrity even back home in Latvia, saying Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis is the closest thing to an A-lister there. Perhaps a Knicks cap or a one for the Mets — the baseball team that plays across the street from the U.S. Open — might have been a more obvious choice, but Sevastova is sticking with the navy and white of the Yankees.
She'll next face two-time U.S. Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki, on a resurgent run with two wins over top-10 players here after Sunday's 6-3, 6-4 victory over eighth-seeded American Madison Keys.
Another past U.S. Open finalist, Roberta Vinci, also moved on Sunday. The seventh-seeded Italian topped 99th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko 7-6 (5), 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows for the fourth time in five years.