Jelena Ostapenko became the first-ever Latvian to win a Grand Slam and the youngest woman to claim the Roland Garros singles title in 20 years after she defeated third-seeded Simona Halep in Paris on Saturday.
The 20-year-old Ostapenko, the youngest French Open women’s singles champion since Iva Majoli in 1997, overcame a 4-6, 0-3 deficit to beat Halep and capture the first title of her career.
She’s also the youngest Grand Slam winner since Maria Sharapova won the 2006 US Open, and the first unseeded women’s champion at Roland Garros since 1933.
“I think I cannot believe I’m the Roland Garros champion and I’m only 20 years old. It’s just so amazing to be here,” said Ostapenko in her on-court interview with Marion Bartoli.
Halep missed out on a chance to win her first major and ascend to the No1 ranking for the first time.
It was a break-fest from the start with four of the first six games all going against serve.
The pair finally held and despite pressure from Ostapenko, Halep claimed a crucial game to inch ahead 5-4. Typical ‘SI-MO-NA’ chants naturally followed.
Serving to stay in the set, Ostapenko dazzled with an inside-out forehand winner for 15-15. But Halep upped the ante and drew the error from her Latvian opponent to take the opening set in 37 minutes.
Halep saved a break point in her opening service game of the second then broke on her way to a 3-0 lead. Ostapenko was still painting the lines and firing powerful shots but Halep was able to neutralise her, winning the points that matter the most and was generally untroubled.
Ostapenko was not giving up and she broke Halep in the fifth game to cut her deficit to 2-3.
The young power-player sent a backhand wide the next game to face two break points but hung on and managed to draw level for 3-all. Ostapenko approached the net and found the swing volley that had done so well for her throughout the fortnight as she broke the Halep serve in game seven.
The Latvian’s advantage did not last as Halep broke right back for 4-4.
Halep’s serve let her down and once again, Ostapenko inched forward to put herself in the position to serve for the set.
And indeed she succeeded, leveling the match on her second set point with her 36th winner of the contest to force a decider against Halep.
Halep steadied the ship and broke for a 3-1 gap in the final set but Ostapenko once again pegged her back, pulling off impossible shots like this one.
The 20-year-old got help from the net cord to win her third game in a row to break and she consolidated for a 5-3 lead. And Ostapenko pulled off the comeback of a lifetime, hitting her 54th winner of the match to seal her historic victory in one hour and 59 minutes, denying Halep a first major and the No1 ranking.
“Bonjour everyone, I’d like to start with the crowd, thanks for coming to all the matches this tournament. I’m sad I couldn’t win it but it was a great tournament and a good experience and I really thank you for always coming and supporting me,” said Halep.
“I want to congratulate Jelena, all the credit for what you’re done this tournament, it’s an amazing thing. Enjoy it, you deserve it.
Addressing her team, she added: “It’s a tough day because we didn’t win. But let’s keep working and let’s believe.”
Ahead of the Roland Garros women’s final between third-seeded Simona Halep and world No47 Jelena Ostapenko, we take a look at the main talking points and key stats.
Halep acknowledged in her press conference that she is “playing for two things” – a maiden Grand Slam trophy and the world No1 ranking. She does not sound daunted by either prospect but will no doubt feel the pressure when she steps on Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday. Her previous experience in the 2014 final will help her though.
A quick look at Halep’s record against other big-hitters on the tour will show that the Romanian is 5-1 head-to-head against Madison Keys, who like Ostapenko can put some serious RPM on her forehand, and is also 5-1 against Karolina Pliskova, who leads the tour each year in number of aces and has brutal groundstrokes.
Halep can often be mistaken for being a Radwanska or a Wozniacki but she is in fact more aggressive than both and can handle the power-hitters. It’s worth remembering that she beat Serena Williams at the WTA Finals in Singapore in 2014 and has pushed the American to three sets on other occasions.
Halep dominated this clay season, winning Madrid, reaching the final in Rome and now the title match at Roland Garros. Her winning in Paris and rising to No1 at the same time can only bring some stability to the women’s tour. She isn’t coming out of nowhere, she’s been a top-10 player consistently for over three years, and has reached the quarter-finals or better in eight of her last 14 Slams. Her game translates to all surfaces and she has made great progress in solidifying her mental strength.
In one way, it could cement this prevalent notion that somehow the women’s game is in a state of “limbo” in the absence of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and until recently Maria Sharapova (a view I personally don’t agree with). Ostapenko had never won a match at Roland Garros prior to this fortnight, clay is not her best surface, and she hadn’t had any breakthroughs at the majors, unless you count her third round in Melbourne last January. On the other hand, she’s the youngest finalist at a Slam in eight years and if she wins, she would be officially ushering in a new generation at a time where the 30+ club has been so dominant.
Halep must be aggressive on serve because Ostapenko has shown she goes for it from the very first shot and has already hit a stunning 42 return winners this fortnight. Ostapenko’s second serve is attackable and someone who is as good as a returner as Halep can cause the Latvian lots of trouble. Halep will try to move Ostapenko around while the 20-year-old will try keep points short.
1 – Ostapenko is the first Latvian to reach a Grand Slam final and would be her nation’s first ever major champion if she wins on Saturday.
5 – Ostapenko is the fifth unseeded player to reach the Roland Garros final in the Open Era and the first since Mima Jausovec finished runner-up to Chris Evert in 1983.
20 – years since someone as young as Ostapenko (she is 20 years old and 3 days) won the French Open women’s singles title. She is attempting to become the youngest Roland Garros champion since Iva Majoli (19 years, 300 days) lifted the trophy in 1997, and the youngest Grand Slam winner since Maria Sharapova (19 years, 77 days) at 2006 US Open.
39 – years since a Romanian woman won a Grand Slam. Halep is bidding to become just the second Romanian woman to win a major and first since her manager Virginia Ruzici won the French Open in 1978.
Rafael Nadal is one win away from claiming a 10th Roland Garros title after he cruised into his 10th final in Paris with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 success over sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem on Friday to set up a showdown with Stan Wawrinka.
Nadal is just the third man in history to make 10 appearances in the final at one Grand Slam event after Bill Tilden (10 US Open finals) and Roger Federer (10 Wimbledon finals) and Sunday will be his 22nd appearance in a major final.
Thiem and Nadal were facing off in a fourth consecutive tournament and entered the contest leading the tour in most number of match wins on clay this season (22).
And while many expected the 23-year-old Austrian to be a tough test for Nadal, who lost to Thiem in Rome two weeks ahead of the tournament – the semi-final was by no means a tight affair.
“I think to play Rafa on clay in French Open in a final is probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis. He’s the best player ever on clay. As you say, he’s going for his 10th Roland Garros, so it’s something really impressive, something tough,” said Wawrinka.
“It’s for sure gonna be really difficult. But again, in the end of the day, it’s the final. The pressure is on both players. No one go on the court thinking he has no pressure. We both want to win the title, and we both gonna give it all on the court.”
Thiem broke Nadal in the opening game of the match but the Spaniard responded immediately. Nadal ran away with the set in 45 minutes but found himself in trouble early in the second, facing two break points in his first service game.
Nadal saved both and got an opportunity of his own to break the following game thanks to some brilliant footwork and a forehand winner. The nine-time champion got the break to inch ahead. He was stepping inside the court, dictating with his renowned topspin forehand.
The Mallorcan leapt to a two-sets-to-one lead and broke three times to move ahead 5-0 in the third. Despite missing an overhead to start the sixth game and facing a break point, Nadal closed out the match, in two hours and seven minutes to put himself in a position to fight for a 15th Grand Slam title.
Nadal is yet to drop a set this fortnight, and is 15-3 against Wawrinka head-to-head (5-1 on clay).
“It’s true I have been playing a great event, but Stan is playing unbelievable. It’s going to be a very, very tough final. I watched his match, he’s hitting the ball really hard,” Nadal told Cedric Pioline on court.