French Open | Jelena Ostapenka and Simona Halep to contest title
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The women’s French Open semi-final lineup will have surprised quite a large number of people, especially those who don’t follow the game on a regular basis. For many of them the names will be unknown but following their individual performances on Thursday, will become better known over the coming months.
I was always playing aggressive and trying to hit the ball when I have the chance, It probably helped me to win today. Jelena Ostapenko
The biggest surprise is unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko who was celebrating her 20th birthday following a closely fought victory over the more experienced Swiss Timea Bacsinszky and now faces on Saturday, the third seed, Simona Halep for the title.
The youngster showed no nerves as she booked her place in the championship round with a 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 in what was the first of the two semi-finals.
Her aggressive and fearless game captured the imagination, as did the power of her shots which she struck mercilessly into the corners, cross court and onto the lines. Her first serve is also bullet-like but her second serve will need to improve as it is currently her weakest shot.
There were six breaks of serve in the first set as both players attempted to gain the psychological advantage which was only achieved in the tiebreak where Ostapenko unleashed several winners to capture it 7-4.
Bacsinszky required treatment to her right knee and returned to the fray by breaking her young opponent in the opening game of the second set and despite all the Latvian’s aggressive play, held on to level the match.
It was a similar scenario in the third with Ostapenko taking the game to the 30th seed as she struck as many winners as unforced errors, the first three service games going against the server.
The result was certainly hanging in the balance and it was Ostapenko who finally held her nerve better to win the last three games to clinch the match and become the first Latvian to reach a grand slam final as well as the first unseeded player to make that stage since Mimo Jausovec lost to Chris Evert in 1983.
The stats showed she was always the more aggressive player hitting 50 winners but as mentioned, she nearly matched it with her unforced error count of 45. She also broke Bacsinszky eight times in the two-hours and 24-minutes of hectic action which saw the Swiss player hit 22 winners and make just 19 unforced errors.
As she was interviewed courtside, the crowd sang Happy Birthday in French and, responding to Marion Bartoli’s question focusing on her powerful play, she said: “I was always playing aggressive and trying to hit the ball when I have the chance, It probably helped me to win today.”
Bartoli also told her that her forehand was measured at 76mph and was faster than the world number one, Andy Murray!
She will no doubt use that forehand to good effect against Simona Halep who showed her defensive skills to good effect to dispatch Karolina Pliskova, the second seed 6-4 3-6 6-3 to reach her second final at Roland Garros.
Halep will have a lot to play for, for if she wins her first grand slam title, she will become world number one when the rankings are published on Monday.
The Romanian benefitted from Pliskova’s slow start and errors in the first set, but then had to contend with the Czech’s power in the second only to regain the momentum in the third to take her over the finish line by frustrating her higher seeded opponent – who would have herself become world number one if she had been successful – by soaking up everything that was thrown at her.
She brought the match to a conclusion on her first match point with an unreturnable serve to reach her second Roland Garros final after losing the first one to Maria Sharapova in 2014.
“It is an amazing feeling, I’m so happy. I came through a tough match yesterday, but I just care about today. Karolina is a good player and made it tough,” Halep told the crowd afterwards.
“It is nice to be in the final again, I hope I can play better and win it. I’m playing a young player, it is a big challenge and it will be great to play here on Chatrier again
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Earlier in the day the first trophy of this year’s tournament was awarded when Gabriela Dabrowski and Rohan Bopanna won the mixed doubles title. Dabrowski, who is from Canada, and her Indian partner fended off two match points on their way to a 2-6 6-2 12-10 victory over Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany and Robert Farah of Colombia for their first Grand Slam title.