Thursday 19 October 2017

Daredevil streak has Ostapenko poised to fill Sharapova void

Ostapenko came from a set and 3-0 down to overpower Halep with the unlikely tally of 54 clean winners. Image: AP Photo/David Vincent
Ostapenko came from a set and 3-0 down to overpower Halep with the unlikely tally of 54 clean winners. Image: AP Photo/David Vincent

Simon Briggs

The Aegon Classic in Birmingham lost its star attraction late on Saturday night, when Maria Sharapova announced that her thigh injury has still not healed. But there is a silver lining: the new French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko is available instead.

In a statement on her Facebook page, Sharapova said that "the muscle tear that I sustained in Rome will unfortunately not allow me to compete in the grass-court tournaments I was scheduled to play".

She will miss not only Birmingham but also the Wimbledon qualifying event at Roehampton.

And her absence will create yet another wild-card dilemma, this time for the US Open, whose organisers will have to decide whether to invite her directly into the main draw.

In the meantime, Ostapenko, 20, promises to make a more than adequate replacement.

Ranked No 47 when the entry list was compiled - as opposed to No 12 when the new set of rankings is released today - she was only one place from earning direct entry in any case.

Dramatic

Tennis lovers might still be adapting to Ostapenko's dramatic rise, yet her eyeballs-out hitting, as she beat Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in Saturday's French Open final, made her one of the most popular Paris champions in decades.

And as we head into the British grass-court season, it is worth noting that her flat, venomous groundstrokes - particularly the forehand that she hit at a ferocious average speed of 122kmh over the past fortnight - should prove even more lethal on a faster surface .

"If she keeps doing what she is doing and keeps the same focus she can be very dangerous," said Ostapenko's coach Anabel Medina Garrigues.

"On grass it is difficult to move, and she can be very dangerous with her shots.

"She won Wimbledon juniors and when I talked to her during that tournament she was saying: 'I love to play on grass, it's my favourite surface.' She will believe in herself that she can play well there."

Ostapenko came from a set and 3-0 down to overpower Halep with the unlikely tally of 54 clean winners.

She is so extraordinarily trigger-happy that, when pushed out wide, she responds by lashing improbable, down-the-line winners over the high part of the net.

After the match, Ostapenko was asked how she prefers to spend her time when she is not marmalising opponents or lifting Grand Slam trophies.

"I like to go to attraction parks and ride crazy roller-coasters," she replied. "To do sky jumps, because I like scary things. I am an extreme person." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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