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“If I play well, I can beat almost anyone” – Ostapenko will not be surprised if she wins another Slam
Nearly six years have passed since she engineered her greatest triumph, but Jelena Ostapenko has never stopped believing in her ability to win the sports’ biggest crowns.
Many a pundit had a potential quarter-final between top-seeded Iga Swiatek and rapidly rising Coco Gauff circled on their draw sheets, but Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 Roland-Garros champion who is well-versed in taking the racquet out of her opponent’s hand, had other ideas.
Ostapenko may be nearly six years removed from her greatest triumph as a professional, but her self-belief has never wavered even if she has struggled to replicate the scintillating form that took her to the pinnacle of the sport in Paris.
And her ability to create a seismic rupture in a Grand Slam draw remains intact…
She never stopped believing
“I honestly haven’t really doubted it,” she said when asked if she ever questioned her ability to win another major. “My life changed a lot, so I needed a few years to really get used to what happened because I was really young. I was 19 and then turned 20.”
Still, Ostapenko insists that she has always trusted in her ability to function as an elite force in the sport.
“I always knew and believed in my game,” she said. “If I play well, I can beat almost anyone. I was trying to work more on my consistency, especially in the preseason, just to step on the court and play my game.
“I think I’m doing it quite well this week.”
Now that Ostapenko is into the quarter-finals at a major for the first time since 2018 (as the first Latvian to ever reach so far in Australia), it’s not all that hard to imagine her winning out and raising the trophy that tennis fans affectionately refer to as “Daphne.”
Her victim on Sunday, No 7-seeded Coco Gauff, gave a description of what makes the Latvian so dangerous right now.
“She hit a lot of winners, which not a lot of people can do on me,” Gauff said. “So I think that she did a great job today.
“There was balls I was hitting deep, and she was hitting them on the line and hitting them back deep, like, over and over again.”
Gauff, one of the fleetest of foot in the women’s game, was a mere spectator as many of Ostapenko’s 30 winners zoomed past her. It’s a testament to Ostapenko’s ability to control the terms of a match against any player.
With victories by hard-hitting Elena Rybakina and Ostapenko on Sunday, the theory that big hitters are destined to do well at this year’s Australian Open, particularly during hot days, may indeed carry some weight.
“I always knew and believed in my game,” she said. “If I play well, I can beat almost anyone.”Jelena Ostapenko
More important than that is the form that Ostapenko is carrying at the moment. She’s playing the same rambunctious tennis that took her to her lone major crown, and she’s doing it without being too erratic. When Ostapenko produces consistency from the backcourt she can be unplayable.
She says she is owning the court and staying on the front foot better than she has been in some time.
“I think the main thing before I was still hitting the ball hard, but I was not really stepping in the court,” she said. “Now I feel like I’m stepping much better in the court and taking the ball earlier, so I take time away from the opponents, which makes me more dangerous player. So I hope I can keep it up.”
“You get used to it” – this time around, Ostapenko knows what to expect
As she reflects on the difficulties of trying to back up winning a Grand Slam title at the age of 20, Ostapenko admits that it took time to find her bearings.
“Everybody expected you almost to win every single tournament, which is crazy, because you are still a human and you cannot feel great every day,” she said. “I needed some time to get used to it. Of course, a lot of attention from everywhere outside the court, like photo shoots and all those kind of things. You became more popular in your country. Everybody is watching you.
“Everybody expects you to win and then now it’s already, like, what, six years? I’m just more hungry now to win another Grand Slam and just to play well and to be back in top 10 and just to play consistent.”