Getty Images

Unseeded Latvian teen Ostapenko into 1st Slam semi at French

2 Comments

PARIS (AP) With the unbridled joy of a kid reaching heights she never has, and the go-for-it strokes of someone too bold to know better, an unseeded 19-year-old from Latvia, Jelena Ostapenko, beat former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at the French Open on a rainy Tuesday to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.

Ostapenko sent shots toward the lines and put them right where she wanted often enough to deliver 38 winners – 32 more than the defensive-minded Wozniacki, a two-time runner-up at majors.

“I knew,” the 47th-ranked Ostapenko said, “I had to be aggressive all match.”

Ostapenko’s next opponent is 30th-seeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, who eliminated 13th-seeded Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-4, 6-4.

Both women’s quarterfinals were interrupted twice because of showers; the first delay lasted more than 3 hours, the second about a half-hour. The men’s quarterfinals involving Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic that had been scheduled for Tuesday were postponed until Wednesday.

The last two women’s quarterfinals are also Wednesday: No. 2 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic vs. No. 28 Caroline Garcia of France, and No. 3 Simona Halep of Romania vs. No. 5 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine. This is the first Grand Slam tournament since the 1979 Australian Open that none of the eight women’s quarterfinalists had won a major title.

When Tuesday’s play began, the wind averaged 18 mph (30 kph), with gusts up to 50 mph (85 kph), making balls swerve oddly. Serve tosses were an adventure. Players repeatedly wiped their eyes to get rid of dust kicked up from the clay court. By the final resumption, the temperature was below 55 degrees (12 Celsius).

“We had all the seasons rolled into one today. We had a hurricane, a sandstorm, and we almost had snow, too,” Bacsinszky told the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier. “It was really tough to keep my concentration all day long. I feel exhausted – and I’m sure you do, too.”

Ostapenko had the most trouble in those conditions, quickly trailing 5-0.

She calibrated her strokes better as time went on and the air swirled less, taking four games in a row to make the first set interesting before ceding it. Still, it was clear that she was up to the task against the 11th-seeded Wozniacki, who is 26 and has been to two U.S. Open finals and yet somehow seemed the less sure of herself.

Then again, this was a matchup that clearly suits Ostapenko: She is now 4-0 against Wozniacki.

“Her shots are hard to read,” Wozniacki said, “so you don’t really feel comfortable at any point in the match.”

Ostapenko was down 2-1 in the third set before taking the last five games, serving it out at love. When the match ended, she smiled and shouted and pumped her fist.

Ostapenko’s rise has been swift.

She is the youngest French Open semifinalist in a decade. And she is the first Latvian woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal in the professional era, which began in 1968.

She has yet to win a tour-level title of any sort.

A year ago, Ostapenko lost in the first round of the French Open.

The year before that, she lost in the first round of French Open qualifying.

Before last week, she had never been past the third round of any Grand Slam tournament.

“It looks like she hits it late a lot of the time, and you think she won’t be able to do cross-court or down the line in certain moments,” Wozniacki said of her fearless opponent, “and she does anyway.”

Now Ostapenko will play for a berth in the final Thursday, which just so happens to be Ostapenko’s 20th birthday and Bacsinszky’s 28th.

For Bacsinszky, it will be only slightly more familiar territory. She has played in one previous major semifinal, also in Paris, losing to eventual champion Serena Williams two years ago.

Four years ago, after her time on tour was limited by foot and abdominal injuries, she took a hiatus from tennis to work at restaurants with an eye toward pursuing a degree in hotel management.

In 2014, she was ranked outside the top 100 and went through qualifying at the French Open.

But Paris has become a site that brings out her best tennis.

“It’s the tournament closest to my heart,” Bacsinszky said. “I love to play here.”

 

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.

Former No. 1 Kerber tops Ostapenko; into second Wimbledon final

AP Images
Leave a comment

LONDON – It was clear right from the opening game of Angelique Kerber’s Wimbledon semifinal how things were going to go. She was not going to dictate or control much.

She was, instead, going to employ spectacular defense and solid, steady play, while letting her opponent, Jelena Ostapenko, be the one to determine the outcomes of nearly every point.

It worked. The 11th-seeded Kerber reached her second final at the All England Club by avoiding too many mistakes and using a seven-game run to seize control for a 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 12th-seeded Ostapenko on Thursday.

“These are the matches I was working for as a young kid,” Kerber said, “and to stand here again in the final at Wimbledon is great.”

Kerber is a former No. 1 and a two-time major champion, both coming in 2016 at the Australian Open and U.S. Open. That was also the year the German was the runner-up at Wimbledon, losing to Serena Williams in the title match.

She could find herself up against Williams yet again: The 36-year-old American was scheduled to face No. 13 Julia Goerges of Germany in Thursday’s second semifinal on Centre Court.

Williams took a 19-match Wimbledon winning streak into the day. She won the grass-court tournament the last two times she played it, in 2015 and 2016, before missing it last year while pregnant. Williams gave birth to a daughter in September.

The left-handed Kerber was mainly a passive participant in the early going against Ostapenko. That first game consisted of eight points: Three were unforced errors by Ostapenko, including a double-fault to begin the proceedings; the other five were winners by her, including a 100 mph ace to close the hold.

Five games in, Ostapenko led 3-2, and the numbers were still tilted toward her. She had 14 winners and 10 unforced errors, while Kerber had three winners and – this was key – zero unforced errors.

There were no drawn-out points in the early going, no lengthy baseline exchanges, essentially because Ostapenko wouldn’t allow it. The Latvian plays an aggressive brand of first-strike tennis that carried her to the 2017 French Open title as an unseeded 20-year-old.

Kerber, in contrast, bides her time, working the back of the court to get everything back over the net, often kneeling to get low enough to reach shots.

Eventually, Kerber’s style ruled the day. She went on a half-hour run in which she took the last four games of the first set and took a 3-0 lead in the second. Ostapenko’s strokes were missing and she grew increasingly frustrated, slapping a thigh after a miss or leaning forward and putting her hands on her knees after others. By the time she flubbed a backhand while falling behind 5-1 in the second, she dropped her racket and screamed.

It took Kerber two tries to serve out the victory, getting broken to 5-2. But unlike in the quarterfinals, when she needed seven match points to win, this time it required only two, with the match ending – fittingly enough – on a forehand by Ostapenko that sailed wide.

The final tally told the story: Ostapenko had far more winners, 30-10, but also far more unforced errors, 36-7.