Tennis Channel Court Report recaps the action at the French Open.
USA TODAY Sports
PARIS — She’s fearless, she’s confident, she’s giggly, she’s fairly inexperienced, and now, just two days after leaving her teen years behind, she’s a Grand Slam champion.
In the most unlikely circumstances, 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko became the surprise French Open champion at her first attempt at winning a Grand Slam title.
Unseeded and unheralded, the 47th-ranked Ostapenko became the first Latvian player to win a Grand Slam trophy when she upset third seed Simona Halep of Romania 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 at the French Open on Saturday.
It’s an incredible storyline as Ostapenko had never even won a tour-level title before winning this French Open. The last person to score their debut title at the French Open was Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, who captured the first of his three French Open titles on June 8, 1997, the very day that Ostapenko was born in Riga.
“I think there are similarities because, of course, when I was born he won the first Roland Garros,” she said of Kuerten. “So I think it kind of maybe lucky, lucky number or something.”
It’s certainly not with regularity that an unseeded player grabs one of the most sought after prizes in the sport.
The last woman to win the French Open without a seeding distinction was Briton Margaret Scriven back in 1933. In fact, Scriven, 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone and Ostapenko are the only French Open champions who weren’t seeded in the top 10 at Roland Garros.
“I can’t believe I am the Roland Garros champion and I am only 20 years old,” said Ostapenko to the enthusiastic crowd, who cheered for her throughout the match. “It was my dream always as a child to win here.”
At the outset of the match — one minute shy of two hours — Ostapenko looked to have little chance of keeping Halep from the trophy.
Ostapenko trailed 6-4, 3-0, but that’s when her competitive spirit went into overdrive. As swiftly as she fell behind she was mounting a comeback against Halep, who was also a French Open finalist in 2014. Even in the third set, Ostapenko trailed 3-1 and had to fight back to capture the win.
But the Latvian was feisty and undaunted. Even when she reached her lone match point there were no nerves to be seen. Her final winning shot — a magnificent backhand down the line winner — was flawless and performed with the precision expected of a veteran.
“I knew I’m already in the final and I’m playing such a great player as Simona,” Ostapenko said. “And I was losing 6-4, 3-0, and then in my mind I was just, I’m just going to enjoy the match, and I will try to fight until the last point.
“And then I stayed aggressive and the match turned my way.”
Ostapenko entered the final with an enormous number of outright winners tallied through the tournament — 245 to be exact, including 50 in her birthday win over 30th seed Timea Bacsinszky in the semifinals on Thursday. In the final ,she added another 54 winners to bring the grand tally to 299.
In comparison, Halep entered the final with 118 winners and only increased that total by a paltry eight in the final.
Ostapenko will make her top 20 ranking debut with the win, rising to No. 12 when the new rankings are released Monday.
Halep will return to No. 2 in the world, having missed out on the chance of displacing Angelique Kerber of Germany as the No. 1 player. The Romanian needed to win the title to become the top player for the first time in her career.
An obviously disappointed Halep was very poised when congratulating Ostapenko, addressing the crowd and her entourage on Court Philippe Chatrier after her loss.
“It’s a tough day, of course, because I couldn’t win but let’s keep working and let’s believe,” she said to her team. “I’ve been sick in the stomach for the emotions of playing in this final. I hope can come back to a final and win it. It’s my dream.”