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Latvian teen living her dream

China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-08 06:57

Latvian teen living her dream

Jelena Ostapenko hits a return to Caroline Wozniacki in their French Open quarterfinal at Roland Garros in Paris on Tuesday. The unseeded 19-year-old won 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 to become the first Latvian woman to reach the last four of a Grand Slam. [Photo/Agencies]

Unseeded Ostapenko shakes off early jitters to bounce former world No 1

PARIS - After becoming a Grand Slam semifinalist for the first time, Jelena Ostapenko sounded a lot like the carefree teenager she'll be for only one more day.

The unseeded 19-year-old from Latvia displayed unbridled joy after using the go-for-it strokes of someone too bold to know better to upset former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at the French Open on a rainy Tuesday.

Ostapenko cracked jokes at her post-match media conference, then giggled at her own words. As she 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, 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, the tournament quickly became wide open.

It is the first major since the 1979 Australian Open where no women's quarterfinalist is 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 on 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.

At last year's French Open, she lost in the first round. The year before that, she lost in the first round of qualifying.

She is the youngest French Open semifinalist in a decade.

"Maybe I'm part of what is kind of a new generation," Ostapenko said.

Against Wozniacki, a two-time US Open runner-up, the Latvian sent shots toward the lines and put them right where she wanted often enough to deliver 38 winners - 32 more than her defensive-minded opponent.

"It looks like she hits it late a lot of the time, and you think she won't be able to do cross-court or down the line in certain moments," Wozniacki said. "But then she does it anyway."

The first Latvian woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal in the professional era, Ostapenko credits her strong footwork to her hobby of ballroom dancing - particularly the samba.

When Tuesday's play began, the wind averaged 18 mph with gusts up to 50 mph, making balls swerve oddly.

Serve tosses were an adventure, and players wiped their eyes when dust kicked up from the clay court.

There were two rain delays totaling more than 3? hours - both scheduled men's quarterfinals were postponed to Wednesday - and when play resumed for good, the temperature dipped to 12 C.

"We had all the seasons rolled into one today," Bacsinszky said.

"We had a hurricane, a sandstorm and we almost had snow, too."

Bothered by the wind, Ostapenko trailed 5-0 at the start. But she calibrated her strokes better as the air swirled less and it was clear she was up to the task against the 11th-seeded Wozniacki, who is 26.

The matchup suited Ostapenko, the 2014 Wimbledon junior champion, who has now won five straight matches against Wozniacki.

After being down 2-1 in the third set, Ostapenko grabbed the last five games, smiling and shouting and pumping her fist at the end.

While Ostapenko is on the rise, Bacsinszky is not long removed from nearly quitting the sport completely.

Four years ago, after foot and abdominal injuries, she took a hiatus from tennis to work at restaurants with an eye toward pursuing a degree in hotel management.

In 2014, back on tour, she was ranked outside the top 100 and needed to qualify for the French Open.

But Paris brings out her best.

"It's the tournament closest to my heart," Bacsinszky said. "I love to play here."

Associated Press

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