PARIS • Jelena Ostapenko admitted yesterday she was delighted her breakthrough 2017 Roland Garros triumph helped inspire Naomi Osaka to three Grand Slam crowns.
The Latvian stunned the sport three years ago with her run to the title in Paris, claiming a first career crown by seeing off the likes of Samantha Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki, and Simona Halep in the final where she overturned a 6-4, 3-0 deficit.
Since then, Japan’s Osaka, who turns 23 in just over two weeks, has become a global star by winning the 2018 and 2020 US Opens and 2019 Australian Open.
Bianca Andreescu won the 2019 US Open at just 19 while Sofia Kenin, 21, claimed the Melbourne title this year as the next generation of women’s tennis threaten to push aside the old guard.
“It was tough to deal with all this pressure which was on me because obviously, I was the first one from the year 1997 to win a Slam but I felt the girls started to play better after that,” said Ostapenko, who stunned second seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-2 to reach the French Open third round yesterday.
“Especially Naomi, she’s such a good player. Maybe 2017 inspired them, and they saw that it’s possible. So the young generation is coming. But also when I saw her winning, of course I also wanted to get back there on top and win another Slam. So we kind of have all inspired each other which is good.”
Ostapenko had only just turned 20 and was 47th in the world when she won in Paris three years ago although it has been a roller-coaster ride ever since.
Her title defence ended in the first round in 2018 at the hands of Kateryna Kozlova while Victoria Azarenka dished out another opening-round loss last year.
She made the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2018 but has yet to get past the third round at either the Australian or US Open.
“It’s hard to compare to 2017 because I was fearless, nobody really knew me,” added Ostapenko, now ranked 43rd. “But now they know how I play and how to play against me.”
She fired 27 winners past Pliskova and she believes the slower conditions of a tournament being played in the autumn, rather than its traditional May-June slot, play right into her comfort zone.
Her game now also incorporates more drop shots rather than her once trademark all-or-nothing missiles fired down either flank.
- DAY 5 SELECTED RESULTS
MEN 2ND RD
Cristian Garin (Chi) bt Marc Polmans (Aus) 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 7-6 (7-3) 6-4, Karen Khachanov (Rus) bt Jiri Vesely (Cze) 6-1 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (7-2), Daniel Altmaier (Ger) bt Jan-Lennard Struff (Ger) 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-3, Marton Fucsovics (Hun) bt Albert Ramos-Vinolas (Esp) 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 7-5, Thiago Monteiro (Bra) bt Marcos Giron (USA) 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 6-1, Grigor Dimitrov (Bul) bt Andrej Martin (Svk) 6-4 7-6 (7-5) 6-1.
WOMEN 2ND RD
Aryna Sabalenka (Blr) bt Darya Kasatkina (Rus) 7-6 (8-6) 6-0, Danielle Collins (USA) bt Clara Tauson (Den) 6-2 6-3, Sofia Kenin (USA) bt Ana Bogdan (Rou) 3-6 6-3 6-2, Petra Kvitova (Cze) bt Jasmine Paolini (Ita) 6-3 6-3, Garbine Muguruza (Esp) Kristyna Pliskova (Cze) 6-3 6-2.
“Girls are expecting me always to hit the ball so strong, and especially here on clay, so it’s useful because the bounces are much lower because it’s much colder,” she said.
“The drop shot is very useful. Even if I can’t hit winners, sometimes, I mix it up and the girls don’t expect it.”
For Pliskova, it’s the end of another fruitless trip to the French capital. The 28-year-old Czech made the semi-finals in 2017 but has now failed to get beyond the third round in her eight other appearances.
This year, she made the third round at the Australian Open and just the second round in New York.
“I think maybe the year is finished,” said Pliskova, who remains the only active former world No. 1 who has not won a Grand Slam.
“Definitely, I was not playing great. I think maybe the same level as the match before, but of course, she’s a much better player. Not much to say about this match.”
In the men’s draw, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic clinched his 70th career win at the French Open with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. The Serb, chasing an 18th Major, is also bidding to become the first man in half a century to win all four Slams twice.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Day 6: Singtel TV Ch114/115 & StarHub Ch208/209, 4.50pm