Jelena Ostapenko stuns Simona Halep in three sets to win her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in Paris
In an extraordinary climax to an extraordinary match in an extraordinary French Open campaign, a new champion has been born.
Jelena Ostapenko turned 20 on the Thursday that she reached her first Major final. By another twist of fate, that same 8 June marked the date that Gustavo Kuerten won the first of his three French Opens in 1997—and his first ever title—the very day that Ostapenko was born.
When the young, powerful, and oh-so-exciting Latvian set out on her journey to the final here, she had played only seven previous Majors and won just four matches—none of them at her solitary French Open appearance.
She arrived in Paris having reached a final on the WTA tour in each of the last three years but with no title to her name. She was, though, about to ‘do a Kuerten’.
She was also about to survive her fifth three-setter, all but one of them won from a set down. She would beat a former Grand Slam champion, Sam Stosur, a former world No1 Caroline Wozniacki, the reigning Olympic champion Monica Puig, and would finally deny the woman who could claim the top ranking for the first time if she won the title, Simona Halep.
She would begin the tournament ranked No47 and, by the end, was looking at a career-high No12, along the way becoming the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933.
All that, and she would do it the hard way, from a set and 3-0 down, and facing break points that would have seen her trailing 4-0. But she held, and went on a four-game surge, playing the only way she knows how: from the front foot and going for the lines. And she would end the tournament with 299 winners—that is more than 42 winners a match.
Ostapenko levelled, then, at 4-6, 6-4, only to go down a break at the start of the third set, too. But again she levelled, and broke in the most spectacular style to win the match with her 54th winner, 6-3.
This was, then, the stuff of dreams, and the assured young woman from Latvia, in eloquent English, said as much:
“I think I’m going to only understand in maybe couple of days or couple of weeks. I think I still cannot believe it, because it was my dream and now it came true.”
But dreams only come true in tennis with a lot of work, a lot of dedication and plenty of confidence. And Ostapenko was quick to admit that there is more improvement to come.
“I still have to improve some things and to get better as player. So I will work hard to climb the ranking and maybe win some more titles… I think I can still improve my serve, my forehand. And also sometimes I was making too many unforced errors. So if I can reduce them, I think it will be helpful.”
As for the future, Ostapenko’s big game will surely be a formidable force come the grass. She is, incidentally, already a Wimbledon junior champion, in 2014, and she relishes the prospect:
“I’m looking forward to Wimbledon because grass is one of my favourite surfaces. In three weeks, I’m going to get ready for that.”
Then she added:
“Of course, I would like to win probably all of the Grand Slams. It’s my goal, I think. But I’m just going to try to work hard now and try to reach the high ranking.”
And what of the beaten finalist, the woman who was many people’s tip to win the title here after a superb clay season: semis in Stuttgart, title in Madrid and the final in Rome. Halep’s had been a resilient, battling effort that buckled only at the last under the torrent that came from the racket of the Latvian. However, the No1 ranking it still within her grasp come the grass season, and she already sits atop the Road to Singapore leader-board.
But she admitted: “It’s a tough moment for me, but it’s gonna go away, I hope, with time. I will keep working, because I really want to repeat what I have done this tournament.
“She played really well, all the credit. She was hitting very strong. At some point I was like a spectator on court. She deserved to win. I was close, but again, I lost it. I cannot change anything, so I just have to look forward. [It] hurts a lot, and I need time just to—I don’t know—to go away (smiling).”
The day, though, belonged to the new kid on the block, the new name on the Suzanne Lenglen trophy, the new star on tennis’s Grand Slam stage. Take a bow, Jelena Ostapenko.