Sur­prise: Ostapenko is in fi­nal at Paris

Un­her­alded Lat­vian, 20, beats Bac­sin­szky and will meet Halep for French Open ti­tle.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS -

PARIS — Je­lena Ostapenko is a young woman in a hurry.

On the day she turned 20, Ostapenko be­came the first un­seeded French Open fi­nal­ist since 1983, us­ing big and bold ground strokes Thurs­day to end points lick­ety-split on the way to beat­ing 30th-seeded Timea Bac­sin­szky of Switzer­land 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3.

“Her life is like this: Ev­ery­thing very fast,” said Ostapenko’s coach, for­mer pro An­abel Me­d­ina Gar­rigues. “Hit fast. Walk fast. Talk fast.”

It’s true. How quickly did this come to­gether for Ostapenko, the first ten­nis player from Latvia to reach a Grand Slam fi­nal? Not only is this just her eighth ma­jor tour­na­ment and she had never been past so much as the third round at one be­fore this week, and not only did she lose her open­ing match in Paris a year ago, but she also has yet to win a tour-level ti­tle of any sort.

“I mean, when I came here,” Ostapenko said, “of course I didn’t ex­pect I would be in the fi­nal.”

In Satur­day’s cham­pi­onship match, the 47thranked Ostapenko will face Si­mona Halep of Ro­ma­nia, who got past 2016 U.S. Open run­ner-up Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Repub­lic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the sec­ond com­pelling semi­fi­nal on a sunny day with the tem­per­a­ture touch­ing 81 de­grees.

While Ostapenko is as­sured of mak­ing her de­but in the top 20 next week thanks to her sur­pris­ing show­ing at the French Open, there is more at stake for the No. 3seeded Halep: In ad­di­tion to a chance for Grand Slam ti­tle No. 1, a win would al­low the 25-year-old to seize the No. 1 rank­ing.

This is the sec­ond ma­jor fi­nal for Halep, run­ner-up to Maria Shara­pova at Roland Gar­ros three years ago.

“I hope this time I can play bet­ter,” Halep said, “and I can win it.”

There will be quite a con­trast in styles Satur­day. The 5-foot-6 Halep is a ball-chas­ing, de­fen­sive dy­namo un­afraid of lengthy ex­changes who gets to nearly ev­ery­thing off an op­po­nent’s racket and is care­ful when she swings. She made 14 un­forced er­rors against the No. 2-seeded Pliskova, whose to­tal was 55. The 5-10 Ostapenko, mean­while, is ag­gres­sive, a go-for-the-lines-and-hit-them tour de force.

Bac­sin­szky’s scout­ing re­port on Ostapenko, a pal she played dou­bles with last year? “She is young and reck­less, in a sense. She’s not afraid of any­thing. She’s a big hit­ter,” said Bac­sin­szky. “She’s a baby, but she’s a beau­ti­ful baby.”

Bac­sin­szky — whose birth­day was also Thurs­day; she turned 28 — em­ployed all man­ner of strate­gies in a bid to throw off her op­po­nent. She tried stay­ing in points un­til Ostapenko would make a mis­take. She tried mix­ing speeds and an­gles and tar­get spots. She tried hit­ting shorter to draw Ostapenko for­ward. She tried hit­ting deeper.

None of it worked well enough, though this is how close the match was: Ostapenko won 106 points, Bac­sin­szky 105.

“Bad luck. OK. It’s a tough one,” Bac­sin­szky said when she was in­formed of that mar­gin, her eyes fill­ing with tears. “I cry now or later? It ac­tu­ally makes me cry now.”

Caro­line Blum­berg Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

JE­LENA OSTAPENKO strikes the ball dur­ing her win over Timea Bac­sin­szky. Ostapenko be­came the first un­seeded French Open fi­nal­ist since 1983.

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