Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko, still a teenager when the tournament began, stunned No. 3-seeded Simona Halep from a set and a break down 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the French Open on Saturday.
“Congrats to Simona you had a great week and it was really tough for me,” Ostapenko told the crowd and Halep after the final. “I hope you have a great rest of the season.”
After winning a first-set slugfest with some brilliant extended rallies, the air looked like it came out of Ostapenko’s balloon as Halep ran out to a 3-0 lead. Leading a set and a break, Halep was unable to keep it together, throwing her racquet in frustration and getting tight in her shot selection, and that’s when things started to unravel.
Ostapenko broke back to serve at 2-3, then fought off two game points at 15-40 for the hold.
Ostapenko broke in the next game for a 4-3 lead, then changed sides leading 5-4 after Hale gave up serve at love. The Latvian then held with a stunning running forehand off the court at 40-15, completing the unikely second-set turnaround.
Going up a break 3-1 in the third, Halep, who refused to add any variety to her game and holding to the slugfest mindset, was broken to bring it back on serve at 3-2. From there everything seemed to go Ostapenko’s way. She broke to go up 4-3 on an improbably net cord, held for 5-3, then with the help of a slight mishit inside-out backhand broke Halep, raising her arms and screaming after slapping a winner off a serve on match point.
The Latvian, who turned 20 years old two days prior, exited the court to brush her hair before the trophy ceremony.
It was the first title of any kind at the WTA level for the No. 47-ranked Ostapenko. Entering Roland Garros she was 0-3 in career finals at 2017 Charleston, 2016 Doha, and 2015 Quebec City.
Ostapenko’s win denied Halep not only a first Grand Slam title but what would have been a win that elevated her to the No. 1 ranking, bumping the struggling Angie Kerber who still hangs on to the top spot.
“I want to say congratulations to Jelena, enjoy it and keep it going,” Halep told the crowd and Ostapenko afterwards.
Prior to the final, the WTA’s Courtney Nguyen was blunt in predicting a Halep meltdown once Ostapenko got hot.
“This is the perfect storm for Halep to succumb to the crucible of pressure,” Nguyen wrote. “The patriotic weight she plays with on behalf of a passionate Romanian public can never under be understated, let alone the personal milestones on the line…So if Jelena Ostapenko catches fire and starts blasting winners — as we know the youngster can do — will Halep panic? Will she withdraw? Will she revert? We’ll see.”
Halep is not a Grand Slam champ, nor No. 1, but she moves to No. 2 on the WTA rankings, hot on Kerber’s heels.
“That was a devastating loss,” said NBC commentator John McEnroe after Halep fell to 0-2 in French Open finals.
For Ostapenko, the French Open champ at age 20, the sky is seemingly the limit.
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