Thursday 24 August 2017

Ostapenko edges battle of birthday girls to reach final

Tennis

Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko celebrates after winning against Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky during their semi-final match at the Roland Garros 2017 French Open. Photo: Getty Images
Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko celebrates after winning against Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky during their semi-final match at the Roland Garros 2017 French Open. Photo: Getty Images

Eleanor Crooks

Jelena Ostapenko won her birthday battle against Timea Bacsinszky to become the first unseeded player to reach the French Open women's final for 34 years.

Not since Mima Jausovec in 1983 has a player outside the leading ranks made it all the way to the decider.

The Latvian powered her way to a 7-6 (7/4) 3-6 6-3 victory to become as the youngest player to reach a grand slam final since Caroline Wozniacki in New York eight years ago.

In a remarkable quirk of fate, both women were playing arguably the biggest match of their careers on their birthday. Bacsinszky, in her second slam semi-final, turned 28 while Ostapenko (pictured) was 20.

Ostapenko's forehand, which this fortnight has averaged three miles per hour faster than Andy Murray's, had helped her blast her way past Sam Stosur and Wozniacki in the previous two rounds.

It was clear from the start that she was going to be the aggressor and she edged a first set in which she hit 21 winners.

She was in pole position in the second as well but got understandably tight with the finish line in sight, allowing Bacsinszky to level the match.

It looked like the same might happen in the third set when Bacsinszky fought back from 3-1 to 3-3 but Ostapenko had learned her lesson and clinched victory with a forehand into the corner - her 50th winner.

Ostapenko will now try to win the first senior title of her career when she faces Simona Halep in the final tomorrow, after the Romanian beat Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

And history might just be on the Latvian youngter's side. The last player to win their debut title at Roland Garros was Gustavo Kuerten on June 8, 1997 - the day Ostapenko was born.

Halep, who lost to Maria Sharapova in the 2014 final, was thankful still to be in the tournament after her remarkable recovery from a set and 5-1 down against Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.

She certainly seemed more relaxed against second seed Pliskova and used her clay court nous to defeat the big-hitting Czech.

After Halep controlled the first set, Pliskova found her range on her big serve and forehand in the second.

However, the gritty Romanian proved just the stronger in the deciding set after winning a long game to break for 3-1 with a brilliant running forehand pass and then fought off two break points in the following game.

The focus switches back to the men today, with Andy Murray insisting that he is the odd man out in the semi-final line-up, having arrived at Roland Garros playing "garbage".

The world No 1 will face Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, while Rafael Nadal takes on Dominic Thiem after the young Austrian stunned defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Nadal, Thiem and Wawrinka are yet to drop a set in Paris, while Murray has lost three.

French Open, men's semi-finals,

Live, Eurosport, from 11.30

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