Unseeded Ostapenko tops Halep at French Open for 1st title


Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia used bold strokes and an unbending will to come back and stun No. 3 Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in an enthralling French Open final Saturday for the first title of her career. The 20-year-old is the youngest French Open victor since Iva Majoli in 1997 and the first player to win a debut tour-level title at a Slam since Gustavo Kuerten in Paris that same year.

She was born in Riga on June 8, 1997 - the same day Gustavo Kuerten won his first professional title by winning the French Open, the same feat Ostapenko has now achieved.

Ostapenko hit 54 winners, but it wasn't just the sheer number - it was also the timing. I know Simona is a great player and she was playing great but I kept trying, stayed aggressive and I'm very happy things turned around for me.

After losing the opening set 4-6, Ostapenko was 3-0 down before an astonishing turnaround saw her come through to win the second and third sets 6-4, 6-3.

The 20-year-old trailed by a set and was 3-0 down in the second to Halep - who would have become world number one with a win - but prevailed 4-6 6-4 6-3. She will nearly certainly be a seeded player from this point forward, and she also no longer has a zero in the championship category. "It was my dream", said Ostapenko, who will rocket to 12th in the rankings.

"Of course, there will be more pressure but I will try and deal with it. I think she's playing probably similar to my style, so she was my idol".

"I knew that Simona is a great player".

Now that Ostapenko has one Slam under her belt, she is hungry for more.

"I still can not believe it - it was my dream and it has come true".

"I'm looking forward to Wimbledon because grass is one of my favourite surfaces", Ostapenko said in a news conference following her triumph. It's an fantastic thing, keep it going because you are only a kid! There was grace in that brutal hitting, and the steady footwork which is its foundation is a legacy of her balance and quick feet in the ballroom. Ostapenko's 50th victor of the match was another half-volley, helping her to a 5-3 lead, which she then converted against the serve by thumping Halep's delivery straight back past her. But also in the deciding moments, I think I played pretty well in those games. I really enjoyed it. A win in Paris would also have handed her the top spot in women's tennis.

Ostapenko's run is all the more remarkable given her third-round exit at this year's Australian Open represented her best previous Grand Slam performance. Halep made just 10 unforced errors in the match, a measure of her excellence, yet it always felt as if she might not survive this trial by fire with the match never really being on her racquet. A couple of break points to make it 4-0 presented themselves to the Romanian giving an impression that she had found a way to counter her opponent's onslaught. Just look at Angelique Kerber, the world No. 1 who lost in the first round.