Monday 19 March 2018 / 10:07 PM


Jelena Ostapenko has stunned the tennis world by winning the French Open, coming from behind to beat Simona Halep in the final 4-6 6-4 6-3.

Having turned 20 just two days ago, Ostapenko looked down and out when she was a set and 3-0 down in the second but conjured a remarkable comeback to become the first player from Latvia to win a grand slam singles crown. She is also just the second unseeded woman to win the French Open after Margaret Scriven in 1933, although her ranking will jump from 47 in the world to 12.

Amazingly, Ostapenko had never won a tour-level title until today. The last player, male or female, to win their first career title at a major was Gustavo Kuerten in 1997 – incredibly on the Ostapenko was born, so perhaps it was just fate.

Halep came in as the favourite as she had more big-match experience, having been runner-up to Maria Sharapova in a tight three-setter in 2014. She, too, was looking to win her first major but unlike Ostapenko is a household name and established at the top of the women’s game. Indeed, a win for the Romanian would have seen her become the new world no.1 in the WTA rankings.

The match was fascinating due to the completely contrasting styles of play on display. On one hand, you had the stable, reliable Halep who is a counter-puncher and doesn’t give away too many unforced errors. On the other was the confident Ostapenko who is ultra-attacking and won’t budge with that style no matter what the score line reads.

And her intent was clear right from the start as she broke Halep’s serve to love in the opening game with an array of winners. The winners tally by the end of the match was 54 to eight in favour of Ostapenko.

But with those winners came a heap of unforced errors and the high-risk, high-reward style meant a topsy-turvy match in terms of momentum but deep down, Ostapenko knew the match was on her racquet.

The 23 unforced errors caught up to the Latvian and Halep took the opening set. Halep crucially held serve from 0-40 in the opening game of set two and when she was leading 3-0, she had one hand on the trophy. The match was in the palm of her hand and it appeared to finally be her breakthrough moment after years of consistent results.

However, in an extended fourth game, she couldn’t convert any of three break points to go 4-0 up and Ostapenko won six of the next seven games to wrestle momentum.

It was not a case of Halep getting tight and choking on a lead but rather Ostapenko getting hot with her high-risk game and hitting her way out of trouble on both wings, so much so that one statistic revealed her forehand was an average hit faster than Andy Murray’s.

It was a similar tale in the deciding set as Halep again saved break points in the opening game and raced to a 3-1 lead but again Ostapenko blasted her way out of trouble and didn’t show any signs of nerves closing the match out. It belied the moment and enormity of the occasion, especially at her age.

A moment of luck never hurts and that’s what happened for Ostapenko in the extreme in the seventh game of the decider. Her backhand looked to be going wide on break point only for divine intervention. The ball clipped the net and ballooned back into play with Halep no chance to reach it. At such a crucial moment, the lucky break gave Ostapenko a 4-3 lead.

It was fitting that Ostapenko drilled a backhand winner down the line – her favourite shot — on match point.

“I still can’t believe I won. It was always my dream, when I was a child I was watching players here. I’m just so happy. I’ve just enjoyed it so much. I have no words”, said Ostapenko in her presentation speech.

[YouTube – Hindustan Times]

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Farhan Shah

A recent addition to the roster, Melburnian Farhan is a sports nut who has come on board to provide golf, tennis, AFL and rugby league coverage for CBS.

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