Ostapenko is first Latvian grand slam winner; also first unseeded player to win title since 1933
PARIS — June 10, 2017: Jelena Ostapenko produced an astonishing fightback to overpower favourite Simona Halep 4-6 6-4 6-3 in the French Open final today and become the first Latvian grand slam champion.
The 20-year-old looked down and out when Halep had points for a 4-0 lead in the second set but hit back with an audacious display of power to steamroller third-seeded Romanian Halep.
Ostapenko also recovered from a break behind in the third set and finished the contest with a flashing backhand winner to become the first unseeded player to win the title since Briton Margaret Scriven in 1933.
Not only that but it was her first title of any kind, emulating the feat of Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten who won his first Tour crown at Roland Garros in 1997 on the day Ostapenko was born.
Incredibly, she walloped 54 winners during the two-hour contest, matching her error count, as she threw caution to the wind on a boiling hot day on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Halep’s steady approached looked like taking her to a first grand slam title but she appeared drained at the end by the constant barrage coming from across the net.
Not only did the third seed fall short in the Roland Garros final for the second time, but defeat also cost her the world number one ranking that would have come with victory.
Ostapenko, who turned 20 on Thursday when she beat Swiss Timea Bacsinszky, threw her distinctive green headband into the crowd after a warm embrace with Halep who look devastated.
“I mean I can’t believe I’m champion at 20,” Ostapenko, the youngest finalist for 10 years, said on court.
“I knew that Gustavo Kuerten won his first Roland Garros the day I was born, I have no words.
“There were a couple of games when everything went my way and I was ready to fight for every point.”
Few other people saw it coming but Jelena Ostapenko’s mother was not surprised that her daughter burst into the limelight to win in spectacular fashion.
Asked when she realised her daughter had so much power, Jelena Jakovleva said: “The day she was born.
“She had the same energy when she was little, it was very difficult,” Jakovleva, who coaches her daughter, told reporters at Roland Garros.
“She danced, swam, played tennis, she played football because she had so much energy.
“She’s fearless, she fights for every point.”
Ostapenko was 10 when she first mentioned winning the French Open one day, Jakovleva said.
“She was on an excursion with her father at Roland Garros and she said maybe one time I will become a champion here.”
Two years later, in 2009, she would win the Open 10-12 in the 12-year-old category, at the Tennis Club de Boulogne Billancourt, a stone’s throw from Roland Garros, joining Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin on the list of winners.
Jakovleva stayed home in Latvia during the first week of this year’s French Open but even after she arrived in Paris she could not watch her daughter’s matches from the stands.
“I was nervous,” she said. “And Jelena has more focus if I’m not there.”
At the Australian Open, Ostapenko lost her nerve in the third round when serving for the match at 5-2 in the decider against Karolina Pliskova, eventually losing 4-6 6-0 10-8.
“At the Australian Open she played very well but lost when 5-2 up. We worked on that and changed a few things and she now is psychologically stronger,” Jakovleva explained.
Ostapenko, who will rise to world number 12 from 47 following today’s win, also worked a lot on her forehand, which was then her weakest shot.
“Her forehand was so-so. So she worked hard on it.”
Halep realised today just how hard her opponent had worked on that.
“She can take the racket out of your hands,” Halep’s coach Darren Cahill said. — Reuters