The French restaurant where Anne Keothavong and her coaches have eaten before both her matches here at the US Open can take tonight's order now. Fish of the day followed by crème brûlée proved a winning combination for the second time in three days as the 24-year-old Londoner became the first British woman to reach the third round at Flushing Meadows since Jo Durie and Sara Gomer 17 years ago.
Keothavong has been enjoying the best year of her career and crowned it with her finest result by beating Italy's Francesca Schiavone, the No 25 seed, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. She now plays Elena Dementieva, the world No 6 and Olympic champion. Along with her coaches, Nigel Sears and Claire Curran, she will see no reason to make any changes to her preparations. "I'm not usually superstitious, but we've had to sit in the same place [in the restaurant] and order similar kinds of things," Keothavong said.
When the British No 1 won her first-round match against Alexa Glatch, the world No 254, it was a victory over nerve rather than a triumph of tennis. Beating Schiavone was a different matter. The 28-year-old Italian has never gone beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament and has only one singles title to her name, but there are few more experienced players on the women's tour. This was her 33rd consecutive Grand Slam event, whereas Keothavong is playing in her first major outside Wimbledon.
Schiavone was below her best, but Keothavong put her under pressure by serving consistently and going for her shots. Her forehand is a particularly potent stroke and her aggressive approach kept Schiavone on the back foot for long periods.
Any match here tests a player's concentration and this was no exception. At the start of the match there were barely 300 spectators out on Court 7, but the distractions included a non-stop flow of passers-by and the occasional stray ball from a neighbouring court.
Keothavong dominated the first set, but when she served at 5-2 and 40-0 Schiavone suddenly found her touch. A long game of punishing baseline rallies saw her save six set points until three poor forehands undid her hard work.
Schiavone immediately took control of the second set, racing into a 4-0 lead. The Italian took a lengthy toilet break after Keothavong broke back to trail 4-1 and although the Briton rediscovered her rhythm Schiavone held on to take the match into a deciding set.
Keothavong dropped her serve to trail 3-2 but played a fine game to break back and level at 4-4. When Schiavone served at 4-5 the Italian appeared to lose her nerve. From 40-30 up she hit two poor forehands and a double fault to give Keothavong victory after two and a half hours.
Currently world No 87, Keothavong will climb to around No 70 in the world rankings, her highest ever placing, even if she loses to Dementieva. With Elena Baltacha, Mel South and Katie O'Brien currently in the world's top 150, British women are enjoying their most successful spell for more than a decade.
"Aiming for a place in the top 100 is what kept me going," Keothavong said. "I always felt I could do it. It was just a matter of time. It just took me a little longer than others. Now that's off my back, I can just look ahead and keep working on other things. I don't necessarily think I've changed anything technically, but I think I'm a lot stronger mentally. I have more confidence in my game and have more belief in myself."
Dementieva, who brushed aside France's Pauline Parmentier for the loss of only three games, is one of six women who could leave here on top of the world rankings, though none are looking convincing. Jelena Jankovic, who recently replaced Ana Ivanovic at the top of the list for just a week, was made to struggle before beating Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson 6-3, 6-7, 7-5. Svetlana Kuznetsova, the world No 3, was a more comfortable winner, beating Romania's Sorana Cirstea 7-6, 6-1.
Roger Federer, whose four-year reign as men's world No 1 was ended by Rafael Nadal last week, opened the defence of his title in emphatic style, beating Argentina's Maximo Gonzalez 6-3, 6-0, 6-3, while Novak Djokovic, the No 3, was similarly in command against Arnaud Clement, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
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