Unseeded teen reaches French Open semifinals
Suddenly a Grand Slam semifinalist for the first time, Jelena Ostapenko sounded a lot like the carefree teenager she’ll be for only a bit longer.
Ostapenko, an unseeded 19-year-old from Latvia, displayed unbridled joy after using the go-for-it strokes of someone too bold to know better to beat former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at the French Open on a rainy Tuesday.
She cracked jokes at her news conference, then giggled at her own words. As Ostapenko left the room, she turned to her agent and whispered with a wide, proud smile, “My answers are funny.” This is all so new to her — and she seemed as surprised as anyone to be where she is.
“I mean, 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,” the 47th-ranked Ostapenko said. “So I think if I keep it up, I think anything can happen.”
Those last three words might as well be printed on posters to commemorate the 2017 French Open. With Serena Williams (pregnant), Maria Sharapova (denied a wild card after a doping suspension) and Victoria Azarenka (about to come back after having a baby) all absent, No. 1 Angelique Kerber upset in the first round, and defending champion Garbine Muguruza beaten in the fourth, this tournament became wide open.
It is the first major since the 1979 Australian Open where no women’s quarterfinalist was a Grand Slam champion. The out-of-nowhere Ostapenko’s next opponent is 30th-seeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, who eliminated 13th-seeded Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-4, 6-4.
Ostapenko and Bacsinszky, also a semifinalist at Roland Garros two years ago, will meet Thursday. That just so happens to be Ostapenko’s 20th birthday and Bacsinszky’s 28th — which they each knew, because they were doubles partners at a tournament last season and have become pals. After Tuesday’s victories, they ran into each other in the players’ gym and hugged.
“Lucky her, she’s way younger than I am,” Bacsinszky said. “But maybe lucky me, experience-wise.”
Ostapenko has yet to win a tour-level title.
Before last week, she had only once made it as far as the third round of any Grand Slam tournament.
A year ago, Ostapenko lost in the first round of the French Open.
The year before that, she lost in the first round of French Open qualifying.
She is the youngest French Open semifinalist in a decade.