Published: Thu, June 15, 2017
Sports | By Mabel Barber

French Open 2017: Sometimes I felt like a spectator, says Simona Halep

French Open 2017: Sometimes I felt like a spectator, says Simona Halep

Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko holds the trophy in the locker room after winning the women's final match of the French Open tennis tournament against Romania's Simona Halep in three sets 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France, Saturday, June 10, 2017.

Ostapenko, who only celebrated her 20 birthday in the semi-finals became the youngest player to reach the final at the French Open since 19-year-old Ana Ivanovic in 2007, and across the Grand Slams since a 19-year-old Caroline Wozniacki reached the 2009 US Open.

Ostapenko, who hit a staggering 54 winners compared with Halep's eight, managed to clinch the second set 6-4 and carried that momentum into the decider, overwhelming her opponent to win 6-3.

She began what would become an enthralling, 2-hour encounter by breaking No. 3-seeded Simona Halep at love with a series of grip-it-and-rip-it shots, eliciting loud, appreciative gasps from spectators.

"Of course", she said, "I didn't expect that when I came here".

Many parts of Ostapenko's game malfunctioned at various times in this match, which is usually a kiss of death against the consistent, speedy, error-free Halep.

The French Open title was also the Latvian's first WTA title. "So if I can reduce them, I think it will be helpful".

Her relentless, tight-to-the-baseline playing style has elicited some comparisons to a young Seles, but unlike Ostapenko, Seles hit with two hands on both her forehand and her backhand. It's wonderful to play here.

Judging by the excitement on the streets in Latvia when she won the title, Ostapenko can expect a huge reception when she returns home this week.

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But Ostapenko had made almost as many errors and the challenge for her was to keep the ratio in her favour. My own expectations in terms of how I want to do have stayed the same. "I think I'm going to only understand that in maybe couple of days or couple of weeks (smiling)".

And then, in the third, Ostapenko again summoned a veteran's resolve, taking the last five games after being down a break at 3-1. The Kiwi-American duo beat their Mexican-American counterparts in a fierce battle that saw the first two sets going into a tiebreaker to win 7-6 (5) 6-7 (4) 6-3 and bag their maiden Grand Slam title.

"I felt sick in the stomach to play in this final, so maybe I wasn't ready to win it, but maybe next time". "But yesterday when I knew that my forehand was faster, I was a little bit surprised".

One of the pivotal moments in the match came in the seventh game of the third set when Ostapenko rifled a backhand down the line. "Enjoy it be happy and keep it going because you're like a kid", she said. She, thus, became the first ever Lativian to become a Grand Slam victor.

"I knew that Kuerten also won his first title here also in 1997 (the year she was born)".

A telling statistic: Of the 33 points Halep won in the first set, only one came via a victor off her racket. The impatience of youth not only showed up in Ostapenko's play but also, occasionally, in her demeanour.

"When I first played on it, I didn't like it at all".

From Halep's point of view her first time out of the gates at a Slam final, she was surrounded by an entourage of around 50 family and friends, and this time she kept it simple - and it nearly worked.

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