Ostapenko surges into first major final
Birthday girl Jelena Ostapenko becomes the first Latvian to reach a Grand Slam decider with victory over Timea Bacsinszky.
It is the 20th birthday gift Jelena Ostapenko will never forget.
The unseeded Latvian said goodbye to her teenage years in emphatic style on Thursday, blasting through to her maiden Grand Slam final with a three-set triumph over fellow birthday girl and good friend Timea Bacsinszky.
Crunching the ball off both wings and gliding assuredly across the red clay, the world No.47 had the crowd on Philippe-Chatrier Court in awe as she ripped 50 winners past the Swiss in a 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 victory.
"I love to play here, I love you guys - I’m just happy with the way I celebrated my birthday"
She becomes the first Latvian woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era and is looking to become the first player since Gustavo Kuerten to win their first title of any sort at a Grand Slam – a feat the Brazilian pulled off at Roland-Garros 20 years ago to the day, the day Ostapenko was born.
“I am really happy. I love to play here, I love you guys, you’re amazing. I’m just happy with the way I celebrated my birthday,” Ostapenko beamed after the crowd broke into a rendition of “Happy Birthday”.
“I was always playing aggressive and hitting the ball when I had a chance. It probably helped me to win today.”
It was 30th-seeded Bacsinszky – a quarter-finalist in Paris last year and a semi-finalist two years ago – who made the more measured start, breaking for 2-0, which prompted Ostapenko to throw the ball down in disgust after a string of wild errors.
Be it frustration, jubilation or anywhere in between, this is one player who doesn’t shy from letting her emotions show on court.
A monster backhand winner down the line to break for 4-3 saw Ostapenko fist pump towards her crew as she skipped to the chair, having edged ahead for the first time in the match.
A medical time-out for Bacsinszky, after awkwardly jamming her knee on the run, again swung momentum, however and it wasn't until 3-3 in the first-set tie-break, that the fearless Ostapenko truly stepped up.
She brought up three set points with a blistering forehand flattened down the line – her third straight winner – and took the opening set with a swinging backhand volley drawing a roar of approval from the Chatrier crowd.
Ostapenko was clobbering the ball with such force midpoint gasps from the crowd became commonplace, but too often she was undoing her ruthless brilliance with overzealous errors.
Bacsinszky, with more variety in her game, scrambled and sliced to keep points alive when the Latvian had her foot down.
From 40-0 on serve at 3-3 in the second, Ostapenko was broken.
It proved the turning point of the set as more loose errors began to flow and a double fault took the match into a deciding set.
Neither player was able to grab the ascendancy with five breaks in the first seven games of the final stanza.
This was always a match on the Latvian’s racquet, however, and after a confident hold for 5-3 she brought up match point with a huge off-forehand winner and broke on her second opportunity with what proved to be her most telling shot of the day – another winner off the forehand wing.