Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko tops Simona Halep for first title at 2017 French Open

Leave a comment

Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia used bold strokes and an unbending will to come back and stun No. 3 Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in an enthralling French Open final Saturday for the first title of her career.

Ostapenko, ranked only 47th and just two days past her 20th birthday, became one of the most unlikely Grand Slam champions in tennis history. She also denied Halep what would have been her first major championship and the No. 1 ranking.

“I still can’t believe I won,” Ostapenko told the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier. “It was always my dream, when I was a child I was watching players here. I’m just so happy. I’ve just enjoyed it so much. I have no words.”

Halep appeared on the way to a relative runaway victory, leading by a set and 3-0 in the second, then holding three break points for the chance to go ahead 4-0. But Ostapenko would not go quietly, winning that game and the next three en route to forcing a third set.

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. She took advantage of a bit of luck, too, holding for a 5-3 lead when she hit a backhand that clipped the top of the net, popped way up in the air, then dropped over onto Halep’s side.

Soon enough, Ostapenko was striking two more winners on the last two points to provide a fitting conclusion.

“All the credit for what you’ve done. It’s an amazing thing. Enjoy, be happy, and keep it going,” Halep told Ostapenko, “because you’re like a kid.”

Sure is. Quite a precocious one.

It was a match filled with wild momentum swings between two players displaying completely disparate styles: Ostapenko’s grip-it-and-rip-it approach vs. Halep’s more conservative keep-the-ball-in philosophy. By the end, the numbers were stark: Ostapenko built a 54-8 edge in winners, but she also had far more unforced errors than Halep, 54-10.

Halep, a 25-year-old from Romania, was playing in her second major final. She was the runner-up to Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros in 2014.

“I’ve been sick in the stomach with emotion,” Halep said. “Maybe I was not ready to win it.”

Ostapenko was playing in only her eighth Grand Slam tournament, never having been past the third round. A year ago in Paris, she lost in the first round. A year before that, she lost in the first round of qualifying at Roland Garros.

The last woman to win her first tour-level title at a major was Barbara Jordan at the 1979 Australian Open. Not coincidentally, that was also the last time at any Grand Slam tournament that none of the women’s quarterfinalists had previously won a major championship.

So Ostapenko stepped into the considerable opening created by the absences of Serena Williams (who is pregnant) and Sharapova (denied a wild card after a drug ban). Also missing was two-time major champ Victoria Azarenka, while No. 1 Angelique Kerber lost in the first round.

That all added up to an up-for-grabs feeling, and Ostapenko seized the opportunity.

She burst onto the scene over these two weeks with a brash brand of tennis. Accenting shots with high-pitched exhales, she likes points quick and is not shy about unleashing a forehand measured as being faster than that of men’s No. 1 Andy Murray. The impatience of youth not only showed up in Ostapenko’s play but also, occasionally, in her demeanor. When she’d miss, she would slap her thigh or crack her racket on the red clay or raise a palm as if to say, “What was up with that shot?”

And when things went her way? She screamed “Come on!” or pumped a fist or smiled broadly.

Halep presents something of a polar opposite with the ball in play: She extends points, grinding along the baseline and sliding to retrieve ball after ball, forcing foes to come up with the goods time after time.

Put those games together and, predictably, the points were often entertaining, played in a slight breeze with the temperature at about 80 degrees (above 25 Celsius) and with nary a cloud marking the azure sky.

Ostapenko showed right away she would not be bashful in, by far, the biggest match of her nascent career, breaking Halep at love in the opening game by bashing the ball, drawing loud, appreciative gasps of “ooh!” and “aah!” from spectators. But Halep broke right back, and then took the set with a break in the final game.

A telling statistic: Of the 33 points Halep won in the first set, only one — yes, just one! — came via a winner off her racket.

Halep moved ahead in the second set, before faltering midway through. And the same scenario played out in the third.

Soon enough, Ostapenko was holding her silver trophy — remember, the first she’s ever won on tour — while listening to the Latvian national anthem ring through a Grand Slam stadium after a singles final for the first time.

Del Potro edges Federer in 3 sets to win Indian Wells title

AP Images
Leave a comment

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Juan Martin del Potro keeps surprising himself.

Close to quitting tennis after four wrist surgeries in recent years, the Argentine fought to get back to the ATP Tour even as he was reduced to hitting his backhand with one hand instead of his usual two.

The struggle paid off Sunday, when Del Potro staved off three match points in the third set to beat top-ranked Roger Federer 6-4,7-6 (8), 7-6 (2) for the BNP Paribas Open title.

The win ranks up there with Del Potro’s 2009 U.S. Open title, in which he beat Federer, and helping Argentina win the Davis Cup in 2016.

“I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis,” Del Potro said.

Naomi Osaka of Japan won the women’s title 6-3, 6-2 over Russian Daria Kasatkina in a match-up of 20-year-old rising stars.

Del Potro and Osaka each earned $1.3 million.

Del Potro became the first Argentine champion in the 42-year history of the desert tournament. He handed Federer his first loss of the year, snapping the Swiss superstar’s 17-match winning streak that was the best of his career.

“I feel frustrated that I let an opportunity like this go by,” Federer said.

Del Potro held a match point at 8-7 in the second-set tiebreaker, but he lost the final three points on his own errors that allowed Federer to force a third set.

“It was a lot of frustration after that match point, but then I play well,” Del Potro said.

They were on serve in the third until Federer broke for a 5-4 lead with a backhand winner off del Potro’s serve.

Federer had a chance to serve out the match, holding two match points. But del Potro staved both off to force deuce.

Federer’s forehand went long, giving del Potro a break point. Federer answered with a backhand that hit del Potro at the net and then gained his third match point on del Potro’s forehand error.

Del Potro recovered to deuce with a forehand winner. Federer mis-hit a forehand high into the air beyond the baseline, giving del Potro another break point. The Argentine cashed in with a well-placed forehand in the corner to tie the set, 5-all.

In the tiebreaker, Del Potro raced to a 6-1 lead, helped by two of Federer’s double faults. He closed out the win on his third match point when Federer’s forehand failed.

“I would like to play that tiebreaker again because I don’t know what the hell happened,” Federer said.

Del Potro lost just six points on his serve in the first set.

In the second-set tiebreaker, Del Potro and Federer took turns arguing with chair umpire Fergus Murphy. Del Potro was annoyed the crowd was making noise on his serve and told the umpire he wasn’t warning them enough to be quiet.

“It had no effect on the outcome of the match,” Federer said. “I was just also just trying to pump myself up more, to get energy for me.”

Del Potro survived three-setters against countryman Leonardo Mayer in the fourth round and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals. It was his first win against Federer since last year’s U.S. Open quarters. Del Potro trails in their series 18-7, but owns a 4-2 advantage in finals.

Del Potro arrived at Indian Wells having won a title in Acapulco and back in the top 10.

“I’m really enjoying playing tennis again,” he said. “I’m still surprising myself, and I want to keep surprising the tennis tour.”

More AP tennis coverage:

Federer edges Coric in 3 sets in Indian Wells semifinals

Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Roger Federer rallied to beat Borna Coric 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday, extending his career-best start to 17-0 and putting him in the final with a chance to win his record sixth title.

Federer overcame a slow start in front of a partisan crowd that included Rod Laver and Pete Sampras. He rallied from a 5-7, 2-4 deficit to win the final four games of the second set, breaking Coric twice for the first time in the match.

There were five breaks in the third. Federer trailed 4-3 and then broke after two deuces on his way to winning the last three games of the two-hour, 20-minute struggle.

Coric’s crosscourt forehand was called out on match point. He challenged the call and the line system showed it was just wide of the sideline.

Federer hasn’t started a season so well since 2006, when he won his first 16 matches en route to a 92-5 record.

The Swiss superstar was playing a rare 11 a.m. match. According to the ATP Tour, Federer hadn’t played that early since 2006. And it showed as he sprayed errors all over the court and didn’t break Coric for the first time until late in the second set.

“Really I just woke up,” Federer said in an on-court interview. “It was early today. I had pasta at 9:15. It was yummy.”

Trailing a set and 0-2 in the second, the crowd seemingly tried to will better shots out of Federer with loud applause and shouts of encouragement.

“I needed to fight a little bit to keep the ball in play,” he said. “Borna was incredibly steady and was playing deep and hard shots.”

Coric, a 21-year-old from Croatia, was in his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal. Federer, atop the world rankings again at 36, owns 27 career Masters 1000 titles.

Coric is part of a trio of 20-somethings that have dominated the desert tournament. Daria Kasatkina of Russia and Naomi Osaka of Japan, both 20, will meet in the women’s final on Sunday after knocking out several higher-ranked players along the way.


Powered by VIP