Ostapenko switches focus after Paris heroics

Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in action against Britain's Johanna Konta at the Eastbourne International. The world No. 13 is fresh off her first Grand Slam win.
Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in action against Britain's Johanna Konta at the Eastbourne International. The world No. 13 is fresh off her first Grand Slam win.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Jelena Ostapenko was flying high after her shock French Open triumph when she was invited into the cockpit of the plane taking her home to a hero's welcome in Latvia.

Now the 20-year-old from Riga is looking for more red-carpet treatment by picking up an equally unlikely Wimbledon crown.

Ostapenko's world changed overnight when she came back from a set and 0-3 down to defeat world No. 2 Simona Halep of Romania in the Roland Garros final three weeks ago.

Fans turned out in their droves to welcome her home, showing off hastily painted homemade posters bearing the fresh-faced image of the sport's newest Grand Slam champion.

Even the pilot of her Air Baltic flight from Paris was won over.

"When I boarded, the crew came and asked me if I want to fly in the cockpit," recalled Ostapenko on Saturday.

  • 4 women to watch at Wimbledon


    •World ranking: 3

    Pliskova, 25, is one of the bookmakers' favourites at Wimbledon after a strong showing at her last three Grand Slams.

    She was the runner up at last year's US Open and reached the quarter-finals of this year's Australian Open, as well as the semi-finals of the French Open.

    With titles in Qatar, Brisbane and on grass in Eastbourne already in the bag this year, she is looking to improve her record at the All England Club, where she has never gone past the second round.


    •World ranking: 7

    The home favourite is looking to add to the Miami Open and Sydney International titles she has won this year.

    The 26-year-old was a finalist at the grass-court Nottingham Open and reached the Australian Open quarter-finals in January, but has never progressed past the second round at Wimbledon.


    •World ranking: 12

    Kvitova, 27, has played down her chances this year but bookmakers disagree, marking her out as one of the favourites after her win at the Birmingham Classic this month.

    The grass-court event was only her second tournament since returning to the circuit after her left playing hand was injured in a knife attack last December.


    •World ranking: 13

    The French Open champion could serve up another shock at Wimbledon this year after upsetting world No. 2 Simona Halep of Romania in Paris.

    This is the 20-year-old Ostapenko's favourite tournament. She won the junior title in 2014, but has not made it past the second round at senior level.

    The Latvian's entertaining all-or-nothing style of play could be the perfect tonic for a tournament missing several big names, and she has proved that she can challenge at the top level of the sport if she hits her stride.


"I said, 'Of course, I want to.' I went there and actually it's more interesting to fly there. The view is much, much better."

But she was keen to stress that she was not actually in control of the flight.

"No. I was just sitting next to the captain," she explained.

Ostapenko became Latvia's first Grand Slam champion in Paris. In the final, she fired 54 winners past a shell-shocked Halep despite the same number of unforced errors.

Her 299 winners in seven matches in the tournament were the most by any player - man or woman.

It is the kind of big-hitting which should serve her well on the faster courts of Wimbledon.

She was the 2014 junior champion at the All England Club and she also defeated two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on the Birmingham grass courts last year.

Ostapenko was a semi-finalist in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon last year as well.

"I think my best memories are when I won junior Wimbledon, and the next year I got the wild card and won my first match against Carla (Suarez Navarro)," she added.

Come what may over the next two weeks, Ostapenko insists that fame would not go to her head.

She has hardly had time to take in her French Open triumph, having quickly left Riga to play on the grass courts at Eastbourne last week where she made the third round.

"I think I just saw some highlights once or twice of the final. I didn't watch it that often because I didn't have that much time," said Ostapenko, who faces Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in her Wimbledon opener.

"I don't see many matches. Sometimes I prefer to see some other sports."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2017, with the headline 'Ostapenko switches focus after Paris heroics'. Print Edition | Subscribe