Jelena Ostapenko continues to march on unscathed at Wimbledon, defying any doubters who expected the young Latvian would be unable to back up her French Open title victory last month.
The 20-year-old valiantly fought through three tough rounds so far at the All England Club, to reach the second week here for the first time, and take her streak of Grand Slam matches won to 10 in a row.
Ostapenko, a former Wimbledon junior champion, battled past Aliaksandra Sasnovich in three sets in the first round, was pushed to the brink by Canadian qualifier Francoise Abanda in the second round, and was down by a break in both sets against Camila Giorgi in the third round but still came through in straights, to book a last-16 meeting with No4 seed Elina Svitolina.
Prior to Ostapenko’s stunning title run in Paris, nine of the last 10 first-time Grand Slam champions on the women’s tour had failed to make the second week at the following major (two of them retired from the sport).
Ostapenko has done a fantastic job not to be one of them.
“She keeps focused, she keeps believing in her game, she knows she’s playing good, and when she’s playing good she knows that she’s dangerous so I think she’s very convinced to keep going and do what she needs to do to keep winning matches,” her coach Anabel Medina told Sport360.
Ostapenko has won 15 of her last 17 three-set matches and Medina believes her mental strength at the crucial moments during competition has been key.
The Spaniard also expected there might be a bit of a letdown from Ostapenko after her huge Roland Garros breakthrough – which was her first-ever title triumph – but the young talent never relented.
“What I think is that she’s very competitive and hates to lose,” explained Medina.
“So that means that when she’s on the court she’s just thinking about winning the match. In the second round she had a really, really tough match against Abanda, a mental match, because they’re the same age and they played each other in juniors so she has all this information in her head so that made her a bit more nervous.
“But once again she handled the situation very well and in the important moments she’s playing much better than the other opponents, so that’s what I feel she has different to other players. That in important moments she’s playing well and other players on important moments they lose a little bit the level.
“I think she’s in her own world when she’s on the court and she’s only thinking about winning the match.”
Ostapenko will be facing Svitolina for the first time and the pair have contrasting styles, but share a similar competitive spirit.
The Latvian is keeping things simple in her mind and is just focused on winning matches.
“After the French Open, I rested a little bit, and I went to Eastbourne. Then I was just preparing for this tournament, just to play every match, just enjoy every match, because I won the Grand Slam at the French,” said Ostapenko.
“I kind of just tried to play free, not to think too much. Because then I think is easier to play. I think after French I’m more confident, so I’m playing every match better and better.”
The last time a first-time Grand Slam winner won the next major following her maiden success was Jennifer Capriati, who captured her first Slam trophy at the 2001 Australian Open and followed it up by winning the French Open a few months later.
Can Ostapenko achieve the same feat? It’s possible.