With strong forehands and youthful intensity driving her success, Jelena Ostapenko soared to her first French Open championship title on Saturday, powering by Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in an upset performance. The 20-year-old Latvian, called “fearless,” “firepower,” “feisty” and a “fresh face” by coaches, players and analysts, lived up to her hype as she won the tournament and moved up to 12th in the world rankings.
Ostapenko entered her match against Halep with grit, and she powered through her first game, breaking the No. 3 seeded Halep on her first serve. The first set then went back and forth before unforced errors crippled Ostapenko, and she lost 4-6.
The young star then fell 0-3 in the second set and looked to be out of the game and draining in energy. But Ostapenko wasn’t finished.
She triumphed in the fourth game of the set, causing Halep to throw her racket in anger and hand confidence to her young opponent. Ostapenko rode her momentum, won the next three games, captured the set and found her rhythm once again.
Ostapenko and Halep battled tightly in the third and final set, and while Ostapenko committed over 50 unforced errors throughout the game, her forehand and strength on the court ultimately overpowered Halep.
The major win brought national pride to Ostapenko’s country, as she became the first Latvian to ever win a Grand Slam. Even before her title, Ostapenko received love and support from her country, including a call from Latvian president Raimonds Vejonis.
“A lot of calls came from Latvia, even the president of the country called,” Ostapenko said. “So it was really nice the attention from my country.”
Ostapenko is now ranked 12th in the world, a huge jump from her 47th ranking heading into the French Open. She is also the fifth unseeded player to ever reach the final of the French Open in the Open Era and the first unseeded player in the finals since Mima Jausovec finished runner-up in the 1983 finals.
The 2017 final match ultimately came down to composure, and the win went to the one who could hold it together, an unlikely description of the average unranked 20-year-old. But Ostapenko is far from average. She is the youngest major champion since Maria Sharapova in 2006, and while she had never played No. 3 Halep before Saturday, she now has a 1-0 record against the No. 3 tournament seed.
Ostapenko leaves France a champion with a bright future and a new title to her name.