Jelena Ostapenko put on a thrilling display to halt Simona Halep’s quest for the No.1 ranking and win her maiden major title at the French Open. Photo Credit: Getty.
“I’m really happy to win here,” a succinctly estactic Ostapenko said after the match. “I think I still cannot believe it, because it was my dream and now it came true.
“I think I’m going to only understand in maybe couple of days or couple of weeks.”
Ostapenko kicked off the clay court season with her third WTA final appearance at the Volvo Car Open, and showed improved consistency to bring that form to the J&T Banka Prague Open, where she blasted into the semifinals.
“I always had the ability to hit the ball really hard,” she said of the 299 winners she hit through seven matches. “If I have a chance to go for a shot, I’m trying, and it’s quite helpful.”
The powerful Latvian nonetheless came to Paris unseeded and looming, knocking out reigning Olympic champion Monica Puig en route to the second week, where she won three straight three-setters against 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur, former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki, and 2015 semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky.
“I slept very well [last night]. I was not nervous yesterday, or today either. But five, ten minutes before before the match, I did get a little bit nervous. Then when I went on court, I felt quite free, until I was losing second set, then I felt a little bit nervous again.
“That’s when I felt, ‘I have nothing to lose, so I’m just going to enjoy the match and do my best.'”
Playing in her first major final, the Latvian trailed Halep by a break in both the second and third sets – saving three break points that would have seen her fall behind 0-4 in the former – to win her first singles title on Saturday.
“I knew I’m already in the final and I’m playing such a great player like Simona. I was losing 6-4, 3-0, and then in my mind I was just like, ‘I’m just going to enjoy the match, and I will try to fight until the last point.’
“And then I stayed aggressive and the match turned my way.”
The first player to win the French Open final from a set down since 1991, Ostapenko became the first unseeded woman to win on the terre battue since 1933. The last French Open champion to win their maiden tour-level title in Paris was Gustavo Kuerten, the former ATP No.1, on June 8, 1997 – the day Ostapenko was born.
“I think it’s kind of. maybe a lucky, lucky number or something.”
Ostapenko was already set to crack the Top 20 for the first time by virtue of reaching the final, but the win will bring her just shy of the Top 10 at No.12. By moving up to No.4 on the Race to Singapore leaderboard, Ostapenko is also in contention for a debut appearance at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
“I still have to improve some things and to get better as a player. So I will work hard to climb the rankings and to maybe win some more titles.”
“Jelena showed today she has a champion’s mentality,” Martina Navratilova said while commentating for ITV UK. “Everybody can hit the ball hard but can you control it? You’ve got to have the goods as well. She also has a big improvement possibility on her serve. When she gets that, watch out!
“With this game, it should transfer well onto grass so she’s got to be one of the favorites for Wimbledon.”
The 2014 junior champion at the All-England club echoed the WTA Legend’s sentiments as she looked ahead to the upcoming grass court season.
“I’m looking forward to Wimbledon because grass is one of my favorite surfaces. In three weeks, I’m going to get ready for that.”
For Halep, it was her second French Open final in four years, and the new No.1 on the Race to Singapore leaderboard hardly put a foot wrong with just 10 unforced errors in three sets as she aimed to wrest World No.1 from Angelique Kerber on the WTA Rankings.
Ostapenko far outpaced the Romanian in errors, hitting 54 of her own, but she matched them with 54 winners, including a screaming backhand return winner to clinch the title after nearly two hours on court.
“She was hitting very strong,” Halep said after the match. “At some point I was like a spectator on court. She deserved to win.
“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. We will see what is gonna be.”