Maturity and variety get Ostapenko back on track

The 2017 Roland-Garros champion impresses in straight-sets rout of Pliskova in the second round

Jelena Ostapenko, Roland Garros 2020, second round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

When Jelena Ostapenko marched her way to the Roland-Garros title in 2017, she did it bashing winners left, right and centre. There was almost a crude beauty to her all-or-nothing approach.

On Thursday, more than three years on from that most unlikely of triumphs, the 23-year-old showed a new-found maturity as she dismantled the game of No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova with a commanding 6-4, 6-2 victory.

“I was just trying to play my game, but I knew I have to return well today because she obviously has one of the best serves on tour,” Ostapenko said. “I think I was returning very well today. Also, I had to hold my serve, which I did pretty good, just once in the first set I didn't hold my serve.

“But I knew I have to do these things well and just try to maybe put as many balls as I can back and to make the points longer and if I have a chance just to go for it. Also, to use some drop shots, because it's a very good shot in these conditions.”

In the final in 2017, when she came back to beat Simona Halep for the title, Ostapenko hit 54 winners but also 54 unforced errors. Against Pliskova, she still managed 27 winners but she made just 18 unforced errors.

In the past three years, with the exception of a semi-final run at Wimbledon in 2018, Ostapenko has not made it past the third round of a slam, losing in the first round on four occasions.

With more structure to her game, she looks a real threat again. Is she better now than she was in 2017?

“I mean, it depends,” she said. “I think I'm similar as I was playing. It's hard to compare because that was three years ago and I was fearless, nobody really knew me but now players get to know me more.

“Obviously they know me already. They know how I can play. They know how to play against me. So I try to prepare very well for every match.”

That preparation now includes experienced coach Thomas Hogstedt, who is in her corner after a brief, unsuccessful trial with Briton Johanna Konta.

The Swede is famous for instilling discipline in his players and his experience, having worked with Maria Sharapova and numerous others, will be invaluable.

In her first two matches, she has shown the kind of variety needed to succeed on clay, something that will stand her in good stead as the tournament progresses.

“Girls are expecting me always to hit the ball so strong,” she said. “Especially here on clay, (the drop shot) is useful because the bounces are much lower because it's much colder this year. Even if I can't hit winners, sometimes to mix it up and the girls don't expect it, so I think it's useful for me.”

It may be only three years since Ostapenko won Roland-Garros but she is not fixated on the past, rather, looking to the future.

“In the beginning, it was tough to deal with all this pressure which was on me because obviously I was the first one from like the year 1997 to win a Grand Slam,” she said.

Karolina Pliskova, Roland Garros 2020, second round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

“Of course it's in my memory because it's the biggest win of my career so far, but I have to move forward and…the world doesn't stop with winning only one Grand Slam.

“I want to achieve more and I want to be back in top five, top 10. Step by step. That's what I'm working on, my consistency. Still being aggressive player, I think it can bring me a lot of wins but consistency probably in my game is the key.”

Not surprisingly, Pliskova was disappointed at the manner of her defeat.

“I'm sure I could do much better,” she said. “I know that she can be tough if she's playing well, but I think everything started with me.

“Definitely I was not playing great. I think maybe same level as the match before but of course she's (a) much better player. Not much to say about this match.”

In the third round, Ostapenko will face either No.29 seed Sloane Stephens, the runner-up in 2018, or Paula Bodosa of Spain.