Few would have predicted the Viking International Eastbourne final between Anett Kontaveit and former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko with 8 of the Top 20 in the draw at the beginning of the week, but it will be a battle of the Baltic for the trophy on Saturday at Devonshire Park.
I'm really happy with the way I’ve played this week and, every match, I played better and better. It's been a while without finals, so I'm really happy to be in a final and looking forward to tomorrow's match. It's actually nice to have a Baltic final, because we’re not such big countries, but still have good players, so it's nice. Jelena Ostapenko
Estonia’s Kontaveit, ranked 27 in the world, took a short cut into the final as her opponent Camila Giorgi retired with a left thigh injury in the first set of what was looking to develop into a fine semi-final contest.
There was no hint of anything wrong with the Italian qualifier as she broke back to trail 4-5, but she called for the trainer at the sit-down and then told the umpire that she had an injury and could not continue.
It was a sad end to a great week for the World No 75, who had taken out 5th seed Karolina Pliskova and top seed Aryna Sabalenka en route to the last four.
“Of course, it’s never the way you’d want to win,” Kontaveit said, in her post-match press conference. “It was a very close nine games, and I was very surprised and very sorry for her that she had to retire.
“But I have had really good matches so far, the ones leading up to the semi-final as well. I’m really happy with the way I’m playing and really happy to be in the final.
“I think I have played really well here and had some very good wins. I’m definitely feeling more confident now.”
Latvia’s Ostapenko, who is ranked 43 and took a wildcard for the warm up tournament ahead of next week’s Wimbledon, overpowered Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina, 6-4 6-1, racing out of the blocks to smack 9 winners and break her opponent’s serve twice for 3-0 lead.
Rybakina roared back to draw level after 6 games in the opening set but then required medical treatment on her back, and was never quite able to impose herself during the rest of the match.
Ostapenko closed out the first set following a late break and was dominant in the second, with Rybakina failing to keep a leash on her unforced errors.
The 24-year-old went on to seal victory and book her place in the final when Rybakina dished out her 6th double-fault of the match.
Ostapenko is looking to become only the 3rd wild-card to win the title in Eastbourne after Julie Halard-Decugis in 2000 and Monica Seles in 1996.
The Latvian struck 38 winners to 30 unforced errors, and finished a match with zero double faults for the first time since winning the 2019 Luxembourg final.
The result puts the Latvian World No 43 into her 9th career final, 5th at WTA 500 level or higher, and biggest since Miami 2018.
“I’m really happy with the way I’ve played this week and, every match, I played better and better,” said Ostapenko. “It’s been a while without finals, so I’m really happy to be in a final and looking forward to tomorrow’s match.
“It’s actually nice to have a Baltic final, because we’re not such big countries, but still have good players, so it’s nice.
“Anett I know since juniors and we’ve been playing a lot, like maybe not so many matches but, I mean, we practice sometimes together, in juniors, and played even doubles. So I know her quite well.”
Kontaveit, who defeated former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu this week, is looking to win her 2nd career title on grass, having lifted the trophy at ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2017.
“[Ostapenko] hits the ball very hard and takes it very early, I’ll have to be ready for that,” Kontaveit said.
“We have played each other quite a few times back in the years, I think. Not in the recent few years, but I know what to be ready for. She’s a very good player.”