2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko made light work of her opening opponent in Eastbourne as she beat Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi in straight sets, 6-3 7-5. The Latvian was playing her first competitive match since the shock first round exit to Kateryna Kozlova as the defending Roland Garros champion.
It took some time for Ostapenko to gather herself and to recuperate following that result. Just twelve months ago, she burst onto the scene with a fearless, breathtaking run to her maiden Grand Slam title, where she won the title at just 20 years of age. The most notable feeling about those two weeks was her ability to play tennis with no fear of the consequence, no concern about whether she would come up short, and it worked tremendously during that fortnight. The question was whether the Latvian could still recreate those special moments, with the same brand of tennis and with the same care-free attitude, with the additional pressure she must have been feeling as a defending champion of a Grand Slam.
During her post-match press conference, Ostapenko revealed all about the hours and days following the surprise loss to the Ukrainian and ways in which she dealt with in the lead-up to the grass-court swing.
“I mean, I tried to forget it as fast as I could, because I expected that something like that could happen because I’m still very young. Of course I was practicing very hard before the grass court season. I took like three weeks of practice. I didn’t play any tournaments. I decided to play only Eastbourne before Wimbledon, and, yeah, just got ready for the grass court season.”
“Actually, after that one I lost, I didn’t really have good, like, couple of days because I lost doubles, as well, which I was supposed to win. And then before my mixed doubles, I got sick. I was, like, throwing up 20 times before my mixed doubles match. So honestly, this year Paris was really bad for me and all that together. I mean, I lost the doubles and mixed doubles, everything first round, so that was super unlucky for me, this Roland Garros. But then I took a couple of days off and I stayed in Paris. I went to see Louvre, Versailles, and just to be like a tourist a little bit, try to do something else, not practicing and playing.Then I went back home. Of course I spent some good time with my friends and then celebrated my birthday, which was very, very nice. I think I’m going to remember it, like, very special because was 21. Yeah, and then I started to practice.”
People forget that Ostapenko is still very young and still coming to terms with the direction she wants her tennis to go as she continues to chop and change her coaching set-up. She struck a wonderful partnership with respected professional Anabel Medina Garrigues, who was the individual that helped her along the way in achieving that first major, but Ostapenko has since worked with David Taylor for six months and now has made a further change in bringing on board Glenn Schaap, who had most recently worked with Anett Kontaveit.
Ostapenko talked about her coaching situation with the press. She mentioned her reasons for splitting with Taylor and more.
“I’m here with Glenn. Yes. So I started to work with him, yeah, and just the first tournament. Actually, yeah, with David we just decided that we are probably going to stop because it didn’t work that well for me and for him. I mean, we worked almost half year together and it was I think a good half year. I cannot say anything bad. He’s a great person.”
Just from the way that Ostapenko plays she is a very all-or-nothing player, but what often does get overlooked is the results that she has put together since her big splash at the French Open. Even with the French Open points coming off, Ostapenko is still ranked inside the World’s Top 15, which shows how well she’s taken to the court on the regular tour events throughout the season. Since that title win, Ostapenko has made quarterfinal or better in seven events and even picked up a title in Seoul along the way, so as much as it can be argued that Ostapenko will have days where she simply cannot find her game, she has delivered far better than many would have expected over the last twelve months.
Now with Wimbledon just around the corner, Ostapenko will have her sights set on doing well there. It is a tournament she has already achieved big success at. She won the Wimbledon Juniors in 2014, then beat ninth-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro in her Grand Slam main draw debut the year after.
“I think it matches it pretty well, because, like today, I was serving quite well and also going for the shots, and on grass it’s more difficult to play defensive. I’m just going to take one match at a time, not thinking about how well I can do. Just play every match as good as I can.”
It feels like the Latvian’s game is tailor-made to do very well on the grass courts. She’s defending quarter-final points from last year, which was her first grand slam as a grand slam winner, so dealt with the heightened expectation well there, but it also feels like the aggressiveness and risk-taking she implements in her groundstrokes can take her as far as it did at the French Open. She does not necessarily have the time to unload and prepare for her big groundstrokes on a grass court, but if she maintains a high first serve percentage, minimised the opportunities that her opponents get to see her second serve, then she can fare very well in a week’s time at Wimbledon.
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