Of the four Beijing WTA semifinalists, Anastasija Sevastova has flown under the radar the most. Naturally, then, at Tennis With An Accent, I feel it is particularly important to highlight what she has done, much as I felt it was important to give some attention to what Katerina Siniakova had quietly achieved earlier in the week.
Yes, if you are wondering, we will definitely have more to say about Wang Qiang, who has taken the China Open by storm. Yet, we will still have a chance to write about her after her upcoming semifinal against Caroline Wozniacki, who will also get her due for this impressive bounce-back tournament in her 2018 season. For now, let’s look at Sevastova, whose advancement to the last four in Beijing has created an important development on the WTA Tour.
The headlines and spotlights easily and widely envelop Naomi Osaka these days. Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka — who lost to an inspired Wang in the Beijing semifinals on Friday — are in the midst of meteoric upward progressions in women’s tennis, fueling the hype and the hope that they will become the next megastars in the WTA’s firmament. Osaka and Sabalenka are justifying the excitement they create, so to be sure, an avalanche of publicity thrown in their direction is not misplaced or inappropriate. I don’t want you to think that the press, writ large, is overplaying its hand. It isn’t.
In moments when certain stories dominate the headlines, however — the Brett Kavanaugh story being the salient example in present-day American politics — I like to focus on other stories where emotions aren’t through the roof and the audience can more cerebrally absorb a story of merit. Osaka and Sabalenka deserve the avalanche of praise they are receiving; I merely want to make sure other stories don’t get shortchanged.
Sevastova’s is one.
Sevastova will be the clear underdog in the first of two China Open women’s semifinals on Saturday. Much as she was outgunned in the U.S. Open semifinals by Serena Williams and the hammer of a serve from the other side of the court, Sevastova will not have an advantage in terms of ammunition. She has to hope that Osaka will misfire and display enough inconsistency for the Latvian to capitalize.
Yet, the mere fact that Sevastova is here in the final four — as was the case at the U.S. Open — represents a significant achievement. Osaka is certainly doing the kinds of things to suggest that she (possibly with Sabalenka) will become the Next Big Thing in women’s tennis, but Sevastova, in her own context and on her own terms, is solidifying her place as well.
It is worth noting that Sevastova and Osaka have jointly ensured that their semifinal will produce a significant outcome.
It is one of the harder things to do in tennis: Do well at the U.S. Open, take a brief amount of rest, fly to Asia for the autumn swing, and go deep at either Wuhan and/or Beijing.
The Wuhan Open is five years old. Not once has a semifinalist or better at the U.S. Open made the Wuhan final. Only twice did a semifinalist or better in New York make the semis in Wuhan: Caroline Wozniacki in 2014 and Roberta Vinci in 2015.
The China Open’s last finalist who made the semis or better at the same year’s U.S. Open: Serena Williams, who won the title in Beijing in 2013 after winning the U.S. Open a few weeks earlier. No one in the following four years has reached the last four in both New York and Beijing.
Guess what? That dry spell has ended, and BOTH Sevastova and Osaka have made it happen. Because both players will meet in Saturday’s semifinal, one is assured of making the final. This guarantees that a last-four U.S. Open singles player will make the Beijing final for the first time since Serena did five years ago.
That is pretty darn special.
The fact that Osaka is part of this picture is not surprising at all. The fact that Sevastova has carried her winning ways from North America to Asia was not widely expected around the tour. The fact that Sevastova is alive to any degree in the WTA Race To Singapore as of Saturday, October 6 of a tennis season is an indication that she has made herself more of a factor on tour.
Staying power isn’t just something Osaka and Sabalenka are building. Anastasija Sevastova is also part of this WTA dynamic in these last weeks before the WTA Finals.