Elena Vesnina has come to the defence of French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko saying she needs some time to mature and work on her attitude towards other players.
Vesnina, who claimed a 6-1, 7-6 (6) victory over Ostapenko in the Dubai second round on Wednesday, admits that Ostapenko’s reputation is not the best among their peers in the locker room but she believes the 20-year-old Latvian is improving in the tennis etiquette department.
“She’s a very confident girl, I must say. It helps her a lot. It’s a really good kind of feel that she has inside of her. A lot of players are saying that she’s not really kind of respectful to other girls. I mean, she’s still junior, give her some time. She’s getting better,” said the 31-year-old Vesnina.
“Yeah, she has this confidence in herself. She’s, like, different character compared to all the junior girls her age.”
Ostapenko stunned the tennis world when she came back from a set and a break down to defeat Simona Halep in the French Open final last year as an unseeded player.
She has a fiery personality that often rubs people the wrong way.
“There is some talks in the locker room sometimes. In the beginning, she had some problems. She was not shaking hands right, proper, blah, blah, blah, all these kind of things,” explained Vesnina.
“I was straight with her. I was telling her right away in her face. She’s actually answering me. I have a good contact with her. I’m going to tell it to her face. You shouldn’t say that, you shouldn’t do that.
“She actually sees that. She is kind of changing. I’m kind of her mentor, coach,” joked the Russian world No. 23.
“I know she’s young and she has all this pressure around her right now. I think, my opinion, she’s getting better, definitely getting better.”
Ostapenko concedes that Vesnina is someone who has experience and can teach her a thing or two.
“She’s very experienced and I think she’s a very smart girl,” Ostapenko told Sport360 of the Russian former Wimbledon semi-finalist.
“She’s been on tour for a long time and of course you can learn some things from her. If she can help with anything, she’s very experienced so you can learn some things from her.”
Ostapenko, ranked No. 6 in the world, has had a rough start to her 2018 season. She is 3-6 win-loss so far this year and her three wins came against opponents ranked 93 or lower.
The young Latvian has lost her opening match four times this season and she confessed that she’s still trying to adjust to life as a top-10 player.
While she attempted to sound positive after her defeat, saying she’ll do her best to look ahead and move past it, Ostapenko also acknowledged how tough that is to pull off.
Asked if staying positive is an easy thing for her to do after a loss, Ostapenko said: “Of course no because I think I really love winning and if I lose I take it very hard, it’s very hard for me to lose because I’m very competitive and I will just give my everything to try and win the match and if I’m losing I’m really disappointed after the match.
“Of course I’m trying to take good things out of it. Because this season I entered as a top-10 player and of course everybody expects more from me and almost every match I play, I play as a favourite and I really have to show my best. But that’s not easy with traveling and everything so I think everything will come with experience because it’s my first season as a top-10 player. And I think there’s still a long way until the end of the season so hopefully I can do much better in the tournaments and even when I lose I’ll just work even harder.”
Vesnina empathises with Ostapenko’s position and believes the young Latvian has the courage in her to get over this hump.
“I would say she’s brave, brave enough to say something in her face. She can say that, Oh, this player is nothing special. This player is like No. 3 in the world. You know, this kind of way,” said Vesnina, who faces Daria Kasatkina in Thursday’s quarter-finals.
“She’s kind of brave, confident in herself. She’s not afraid of everyone. That’s why she won French Open. She’s not afraid. She’s fearless.
“Now she’s getting in a bit different moment in her life. She’s defending a lot of points.
“She has this Grand Slam title. Nobody will take it away from her. She has the game. That’s the most important. Maybe she has some problems with her game, with some psychology, mental part. She needs to, you know, get more mature, get her emotions right.
“But definitely she’s a great player. We will see many, many matches of her in the future. She will win many tournaments in the future.”
The unique Dubai surface and conditions and quick turnaround from Doha (Ostapenko won the doubles final on Sunday and flew straight here) meant that she couldn’t adjust in time for this tournament.
Ostapenko didn’t suffer a dip in form right after her French Open title. She actually reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon a few weeks after her Paris breakthrough, and she had a strong Asian swing in the fall, winning a title in Seoul and reaching the semi-finals in Wuhan and Beijing to secure a berth in the WTA Finals for the first time.
Turns out having such a clear target, like qualifying for Singapore, is what drove her to success end of last year.
“I think after Wimbledon I took some time off and I was not that ready for the US series so I didn’t play amazing. I just realised after the US series that I was not ready to play it,” Ostapenko said.
“Then I really wanted to get to Singapore so after US series I just came home, I took a couple of days off then I just started to work so hard because I really wanted to make it to Singapore and I think it paid off because I won Seoul and made two semis so I had three great weeks, so I got to Singapore, that was my goal.
“I think when you lose you start to work harder sometimes it’s even helpful to lose because then you’re more motivated because you want to play another tournament, you want to win it and you want to have the feeling I had at the French Open.”
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