In uncharted territory from first ball, teenager Jelena Ostapenko rallied from a set down, and overcame both two rain delays and a vastly more experience opponent to become the youngest player to advance to the semifinals of the French Open in a decade on Tuesday.
The World No.47, unseeded in Paris, ousted former World No.1 and No.11 seed Caroline Wozniacki, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, to advance to her first Grand Slam semifinal.
The 19-year-old Ostapenko is the first teeanger to advance to the last four at Roland Garros since Ana Ivanovic did so at the same age in 2007, and also made history for her country of Latvia in the process.
“Of course when I came here, I didn’t expect I’m going to be in the semis, but I was playing better and better every match,” Ostapenko said. “I think if I keep it up, I think anything can happen. Caroline was playing pretty well today. At the beginning, was really windy and was really tough for me to get my game, because I couldn’t expect where the ball was bouncing. She served pretty well, and then I just got my game back.”
Windy conditions plagued Court Suzanne-Lenglen at the start of the match with impending inclement weather, and Wozniacki duly took advantage of an erratic Ostapenko early.
The former World No.1 build a 5-0 lead to begin the match, though the teenager had break points in every Wozniacki service game, as she looked to win just her second-ever set in four career meetings between the two.
As conditions settled, however, so did Ostapenko’s game. The teenager ran off four straight games as her groundstrokes started to find the corners to get the set back on serve, saving two set points in the eighth game.
However, she tossed in a loose effort in her final service game with three unforced errors and a double fault, as Wozniacki claimed the opening set and looked to advance to her first career semifinal at Roland Garros.
“She’s a big hitter. You know, she doesn’t go for the big targets. She goes for the lines,
Wozniacki assessed post-match. “Going in, she’s tough to read, you don’t really feel comfortable. It’s hard to read her shots. That’s what makes it tough to get to the balls.
“It’s easy to sit now and say I maybe would have won if it was more windier. At the end of the day, I didn’t win. She played better than me, and I just have to respect that and try and do better next time.”
After striking 25 unforced errors in the opening set, the teenager worked her way into the match, and took her first lead with a break of serve in the third game of the second set. Though she handed it right back to Wozniacki from 30-0 in the next game, Ostapenko remained unrattled, and ran off the last four games of the set to send the match to a decider — with one lengthy rain delay in between.
With the Latvian leading 5-2 in the second set, the players were ushered off court for a delay of nearly three hours, but upon returning, the teenager hardly missed a beat and set up set point with a cracking backhand winner.
“This year I have been used to it. Almost every tournament I played I have had rain delays. So it wasn’t really anything new,” Wozniacki said. “In the beginning of the match, first two sets really, [it] was extremely windy out there, which made it tricky and was hard to get a rhythm.
“Other than that, you know, you just have to try and stay focused and go for your targets, or at least that was my thinking. I guess she didn’t think so. She was going for her lines. In the first set, she was missing but then she started hitting it a few inches from the line the whole time.”
The first three games of the decider went with serve, as Wozniacki took a 2-1 lead prior to the second, considerably shorter rain delay of the match.
After the players returned about 30 minutes later, Ostapenko hardly put a foot wrong to roll through to her first Grand Slam semifinal, winning the last five games of the match.
The Latvian improved to 4-0 in her career against the former World No.1, including three victories on clay this season.
“Every match we played was a very tough match, because she’s playing really well, and she’s very consistent,” Ostapenko said. “In my mind, every time I go on court to play against her, I just know that I have to stay aggressive, but to not go for every shot because I have to be consistent, as well.”
She added: “Clay is not my best surface, but I really love to play here, because here the clay is a bit different from other clay. It’s pretty fast, and I think it fits my game pretty well. I have to take one step at a time and just — I’m still in the semifinal, and it’s gonna be a hard match. So I just have to go out there and just do my best.”
Ostapenko will face Timea Bacsinszky for a spot in each player’s first Grand Slam final on Thursday, after the No.30 dispatched No.13 seed Kristina Mladenovic simultaneously on Court Philippe Chatrier. The day will be special for both for another reason – as they’ll each celebrate a birthday; Ostapenko turns 20, while Bacsinszky turns 28.
“Both of us will have the birthday, so I’m really looking forward to the match,” Ostapenko said. “I think maybe this [birthday] is one of the best ones – because to play semifinal of Roland Garros on your birthday, I think it’s really nice.
“I actually didn’t expect that it would be here in Paris, but I’m really happy it’s here.”