Jelena delivers birthday bash

China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-10 07:11

Upstart Ostapenko becomes first Latvian to make a Grand Slamfinal

PARIS - Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko is a young woman in a hurry.

On the day she turned 20, Ostapenko became the first unseeded French Open finalist since 1983, using big and bold groundstrokes to beat 30th-seeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 on Thursday.

"Everything in her life is very fast," said Ostapenko's coach, former pro Anabel Medina Garrigues. "Hit fast. Walk fast. Talk fast."

How quickly did this come together for Ostapenko, the first Latvian to reach a Grand Slam final?

Jelena delivers birthday bash

This is just her eighth major tournament. Not only had she never been past so much as the third round at one before this week, and not only did she lose her opening match in Paris a year ago, but she has yet to win a tour-level title of any sort.

"I mean, when I came here, of course I didn't expect I would be in the final," Ostapenko said, her words spilling out with nary a pause in between.

In Saturday's championship match, the 47th-ranked Ostapenko will face Simona Halep of Romania, who got past 2016 US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the second semifinal on a sunny day that saw the temperature hit 27 C.

While Ostapenko is assured of making her debut in the top 20 next week thanks to her surprising showing at Roland Garros, there is more at stake for the No 3-seeded Halep.

In addition to a chance for Grand Slam title No 1, a victory would allow the 25-year-old Romanian to seize the No 1 ranking for the first time.

This marks the second major final for Halep, who was runner-up to Maria Sharapova in Paris three years ago.

"I hope this time I can play better and win it," Halep said.

There will be quite a contrast in styles on Saturday on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The 5-foot-6 Halep is a ball-chasing, defensive dynamo unafraid of lengthy exchanges who gets to nearly everything off an opponent's racket and is careful when she swings. She made just 14 unforced errors against the No 2-seeded Pliskova, whose total was 55.

At 5-foot-10, Ostapenko is aggressive as can be, a go-for-the-lines-and-hit-them tour de force who likes to keep points as snappy as her answers to reporters' questions.

Bacsinszky offered a scouting report on Ostapenko, a pal she played doubles with last year.

"She is young and reckless, in a sense. She's not afraid of anything. She's a big hitter," said Bacsinszky, who also lost in the 2015 French Open semifinals.

"She's a baby, but she's a beautiful baby."

One who hits the ball as if she's angry at it.

Bacsinszky, whose birthday was also on Thursday (she turned 28), employed all manner of strategies in a bid to throw off her opponent.

She tried staying in points until Ostapenko made a mistake. She tried mixing speeds and angles and target spots. She tried hitting shorter to draw the Latvian to the front of the court. She tried hitting deeper.

None of it worked well enough to win, but the scoring was razor-close. Ostapenko won 106 points, Bacsinszky 105.

"Bad luck. It's a tough one," Bacsinszky said when informed of that margin, her eyes filling with tears. "It actually makes me cry now."

It didn't help that she tweaked her right thigh in the first set. A trainer taped up her leg and Bacsinszky took painkilling medicine. Still, not much later, she was two points from taking that set.

"In some moments, I felt a little bit tight from the pressure," Ostapenko said.

It didn't really show. She surged in the tiebreaker, winning four of the final five points and ending it with a swinging backhand volley winner.

Bacsinszky recovered to grab the second set, but Ostapenko took charge in the third, dictating the action with power shots and taking the last three games.

By match's end, the statistics were striking: Ostapenko had far more winners, 50-22, and far more unforced errors, 45-19.

Plus, the pace was entirely to her liking: 165 of the 211 points lasted fewer than five strokes.

"I was just trying to be calm and play my game," Ostapenko said.

"I just try to enjoy every moment when I am playing."

Well said, kid.

Associated Press

 Jelena delivers birthday bash

Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko returns to Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland during their semifinal match at the French Open in Paris on Thursday. The unseeded Ostapenko won 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 to advance to Saturday's final against Romania's Simona Halep.Peter David Josek / Ap

(China Daily 06/10/2017 page11)

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