Today in Paris a star was born. Every new star needs a name, so may I humbly suggest – in the alliterative vein of Boris “Boom Boom” Becker – OMG Ostapenko?
The comparison with Becker is deserved. As Becker did in the men’s game more than thirty years ago at Wimbledon, Ostapenko has brought something new to the women’s game – raw power. The already much-quoted statistic that her average forehand speed is faster than that of Andy Murray does not do justice to the sheer, stunning OMG power with which Ostapenko hits a tennis ball.
Also like Becker, it is the apparent effortlessness with which she summons such power that is even more impressive. Whereas Halep had to wind up and put every sinew into a shot, Ostapenko seemed at times almost to swat at the ball but still it flew into a corner with unreturnable strength.
Ostapenko clearly lacks Becker’s serving power. Like Halep, she struggled to hold serve throughout the whole match. But her forehand lacks nothing and it was the pure raw power she could call upon so readily that allowed her to hit a truly remarkable 64 winners, which, with a pleasing and very telling symmetry, was exactly eight times as many winners as Halep managed.
The only women who Ostapenko can be compared with for sheer savagery of hitting are the Williams sisters. However, there are important differences between the Latvian and the two great American players. First, the Williams sisters were heavily trailed as future superstars even before they set foot on the WTA circuit, whereas Ostapenko genuinely seems to have appeared out of a clear blue Parisian sky. Secondly, even Serena at her heaviest-hitting would struggle to match Ostapenko’s speed of shot, and even if she could she would not do so with such apparent ease.
Ostapenko has so far won only one Major, unlike the legendary Becker and Williams sisters. Nevertheless, her remarkable feat in winning at Roland Garros as an unseeded teenager (give or take a few days) and doing so with such truly jaw-dropping power is already the stuff of legend. If she can sustain such extraordinary hitting (and add a decent serve), she could be the new superstar that the women’s game has been crying out for.