Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia reacts after defeating Sloane Stephens of the US during the ninth day of the US Open. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA
Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia reacts after defeating Sloane Stephens of the US during the ninth day of the US Open. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA
Sloane Stephens of the US reaches for a towel as she plays Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia during the ninth day of the US Open. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA
Sloane Stephens of the US reaches for a towel as she plays Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia during the ninth day of the US Open. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

NEW YORK – Anastasija Sevastova never dreamed when she returned from a near two-year retirement in 2015 that she'd be playing in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam.

That's where the 19th-seeded Latvian is headed after toppling defending US Open champion Sloane Stephens on Tuesday to break through to the last four in her third straight appearance in the quarter-finals.

Such a run didn't seem likely when she returned to competition in January of 2015, finally healed from a litany of injuries that included debilitating back trouble.

“I had done not many goals,” she said of her plans upon returning. “Maybe top 100. I was thinking, OK, maybe a couple of years, play top 100. Enjoy the game. But now, obviously when you win more, you have higher goals,” she said. “When you're winning a tournament, you think that's normal. I can win it maybe next week again.”

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Sevastova earned her second career title - and first in seven years - at Mallorca in 2017 - finishing at 16th in the world last year after a season that included her US Open last-eight run.

Although she's playing better now than ever, the 28-year-old said she's also trying to enjoy the challenge more.

“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 try to, yeah, enjoy it.”

Sloane Stephens of the US reaches for a towel as she plays Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia during the ninth day of the US Open. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA
Sloane Stephens of the US reaches for a towel as she plays Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia during the ninth day of the US Open. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

But with either 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams or eighth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova looming, Sevastova said she didn't have time to reflect on her rise in the second phase of her career.

“It was an amazing journey, this three, four years. Right now you're in the tournament, you're playing next tournament next week, and you don't feel it, you know. 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.”

Just as she isn't looking back, Sevastova said she wouldn't look too far ahead -- to the chance that she could finish the week a Grand Slam champion.
“There is still semi-finals,” she said. 

“It's still long way to go.”

Agence France-Presse (AFP)