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“This pressure, compared to what it was before, is like nothing” – Dubai champion Ostapenko aims for another Grand Slam

A former French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko has been quietly working her way back. After winning the prestigious Dubai title, the Latvian has her eyes set on winning another Grand Slam and reaching the top 10 once again

Jelena Ostapenko, Dubai 2022 Jelena Ostapenko with the trophy in Dubai, © Imago / Panoramic

A Grand Slam champion at 20 and the first Latvian to win a Major singles title, Jelena Ostapenko has spent the last few years dazzling her fans at times with her powerful game and frustrating them at other times with her inconsistency.

After a string of consistent performances in recent months, Ostapenko claimed this week’s star-studded WTA 500 in Dubai, which featured eight of the world’s top 10 players, playing tennis the way she knows best. Now 24 years old and ranked number 13 in the world, the Latvian wants another go at Grand Slam silverware and to rank among the game’s elite.

No second week in a major since Wimbledon 2018

“My goals are big: to win in another Grand Slam and to be back in the top 10”, Ostapenko said after winning the Dubai title, as a teaser for a comeback to the highest level. Ostapenko has not reached the second week at any Grand Slam since her semi-final finish at Wimbledon in 2018.

Jelena Ostapenko
Jelena Ostapenko, in Dubai with her trophy (Panoramic)

The first time Jelena Ostapenko broke into the top 20 in 2017, the Latvian was a largely unknown quantity. Ranked 47th in the world, she stunned the tennis world to win Roland-Garros, beating Simona Halep in the final, to become one of the unlikeliest Grand Slam champions in the women’s game in recent years.

By early 2018, Ostapenko peaked at No 5 in the rankings but was not able to replicate her French Open success. Ostapenko soon dropped out of the top 10, and by the end of 2018, she was ranked 22nd in the world.

From world No 83 to the Top 15 again

Over the next couple of years, Ostapenko bottomed out at 83 in the rankings and struggled to back-up her breakthrough performance. However, over the past year, the big-hitting 24-year-old has been quietly working her back up the ranks and on Monday, Ostapenko will break back into the top 20 for the first time since October 2018.

This time around, her rise has been slow and steady. In May last year, Ostapenko reached the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open and a month later, she won her fourth career singles title in Birmingham, where she entered as a wildcard.

Towards the end of the season, Ostapenko reached the final in Luxembourg and the semifinals at the prestigious Indian Wells event to finish the year as world No 28.

Starting off the new year, the Latvian lost early in Sydney (first round to Paula Badosa) and third round at the Australian Open (in three close sets to Barbora Krejcikova) before reaching the semi-finals in St. Petersburg.

Taking a leap ahead in Dubai this week at the WTA 500 event which included eight of the world’s top 10 players, Ostapenko steamrolled over four Grand Slam champions en route to the final. The Latvian defeated Sofia Kenin 6-1, 6-2 in the first round but played clutch tennis to come from a set down in each of her matches against Iga Swiatek (4-6, 6-1, 7-6), Petra Kvitova (5-7, 7-5, 7-6) and Simona Halep (2-6, 7-6, 6-0) to reach Saturday’s final. There, she defeated Veronika Kudermetova (6-0, 6-4) to lift her fifth singles title and for good measure, she also reached the doubles final (losing to Kudermetova/ Elise Mertens) to move within a few spots of her peak doubles ranking of No. 17.

My goals are big: to win in another Grand Slam and to be back in the top 10

Jelena Ostapenko

Ostapenko is expected to move back into the top 15 in singles next week and this time, she says she is not feeling the pressure of being amongst the elite.

“I had too much pressure already after winning French Open. I think this pressure comparing to what it was before is like nothing. But a final is still a final. No, I don’t think any of those things are going to really disturb me.”

Ostapenko, still emotional but always fighting

And Ostapenko has her eyes set on going even further. “I didn’t expect that I will have such a great beginning of the year. Not like I didn’t expect, but I never thought about it. I had a good pre-season. I was working hard. I think I’m playing well and getting some confidence, which is great.”

Known for letting her emotions get the better of her in the past, Ostapenko says that is an area she has consciously worked upon.

“I feel like even I’m getting emotional, but I’m fighting. Like I never give up and I don’t give any free points. Even if I give them, not too many. It’s not like before, I start to be in emotions, keep like that for the set or for the whole match when I start to lose. I fight till the very last point. I get out of emotions really quickly.”

Hopefully, this time for Ostapenko and her fans, her changed mindset and relaxed attitude will get her back among the sport’s very best for a longer period than the first time around.

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