Jelena Ostapenko became the youngest player to win a slam since Maria Sharapova (US Open 2006) with an astonishing comeback victory against the overwhelming favourite Simona Halep. Down heavily, she fought back to win 4-6 6-4 6-3. It was also the first time an unseeded player had won the French Open since Gustavo Kuerten, coincidentally on the same day the Latvian was born.
It was wondered how both players would deal with the nerves given the different types of pressure they were under. Halep, under the weight of expectation as tournament favourite while Ostapenko was playing in the biggest match of her career and was looking for a first title at the highest level on tour. Ostapenko came out of the blocks in supreme fashion, breaking the Romanian to love which the first few winners in a day full of them. Her weak serve meant she was always vulnerable but on return, she was often able to take the initiative from the start and dictate rallies against a Halep in defensive mode. Halep recovered from a break down twice in the first and when Ostapenko had to serve to stay in the set, she took advantage with the break eventually coming when the 20 year-old hit a forehand long.
After failing to break at the start of the set from 0-40, the match began to get away from Ostapenko who found herself down 3-0 and facing break point. Not to be downhearted, she held after saving 3 to kickstart her comeback. Four games later and the French crowd were delighted to see the new crowd pleaser finding her way back into the match. It felt much like the first set when Halep broke back for 4-4, only for Ostapenko to seize back momentum once more, with 8 of the last 9 points in the set going her way.
The third set came round and Halep once more went up early after Ostapenko blew early chances. There isn’t much subtlety to what Ostapenko does in most cases – she just hits the ball very hard but when she does it well it is unstoppable at times. A weak serve on break point at 1-3 was given the treatment it deserved, put away for a clean return winner. In earlier rounds, Ostapenko had turned up the heat at the latter end of matches exactly when you expect players like her to crumble. It was no different here but on break point this time, one of the most ridiculous netcord winners of all time allowed her to break to make it 3 straight games.
It felt like the *4-3 game would be decisive and Ostapenko showed no nerves in holding to 15, finishing with a backhand winner – one of a total of FIFTY FOUR in the entire match. She continued to tee off on the Halep serve in the final game, fittingly ending the match and the tournament with a brutal backhand down the line for a clean return winner that Halep could get nowhere near. “I was just trying to go for shots when I could and on match point,” Ostapenko said. “And I was just ‘Okay, I have nothing to lose, I’m just going to hit a winner. Or if I miss ‘okay, I have another one.’”
“I have no words, it is my dream. I’m so happy,” she added. “I knew Simona was a great player. But I tried to play aggressive and everything turned my way. I fought for every point. I’m glad it finished my way.” For Halep, it seems her best chance of a slam title has gone now although she should be a contender at Roland Garros every year for the time being. On Ostapenko, a star has been created and her game looks even more suited to the grass courts of Wimbledon. Many of those balls expertly retrieved by Halep won’t be coming back so often at Wimbledon and she has history, having won the juniors title a few years back.