Surprise: Ostapenko is in final at Paris
Unheralded Latvian, 20, beats Bacsinszky and will meet Halep for French Open title.
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.”
JELENA OSTAPENKO strikes the ball during her win over Timea Bacsinszky. Ostapenko became the first unseeded French Open finalist since 1983.