Ripping a screaming forehand straight through the tennis textbook, Latvian Jelena Ostapenko blazed into the French Open final with a 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 win over Swiss Timea Bacsinszky in a battle of the birthday girls on Thursday. On the day she turned 20 the free-swinging world number 47 launched a fusillade of 50 winners to become the first unseeded player to reach the women’s singles final at Roland Garros since Mima Jausovec lost to Chris Evert in 1983.
But seven-times French Open champion Evert, in Paris commentating for broadcaster Eurosport, would not have recognised the brand of tennis served up by Ostapenko.
Mixed in with her scintillating winners, including forehands faster than anything men’s world number one Andy Murray has managed here so far, were 45 unforced errors, some of which could have been included in a video nasty.
At times during a match of 16 service breaks the impetuosity of youth betrayed her as she seemed on the verge of youthful tantrums in the hot Court Philippe Chatrier sunshine, especially when she lost four games in a row to lose the second set.
Bacsinszky, the 30th seed, who needed a bandage applied to her right thigh midway through the first set, looked the more likely winner at that point as she sought to celebrate her 28th birthday by surpassing her semi-final run of 2015.
Logic suggested the steady approach she adopted after losing the first-set tiebreak would get the job done for the experienced Swiss, not the white-knuckle rollercoaster tennis Ostapenko was playing.
But Ostapenko played fearlessly in the decider and roared home from 3-3, swishing away a forehand to finish an absorbing contest and become the first Latvian to reach a major final.
Should she win on Saturday, against either fourth seed Simona Halep or third seed Karolina Pliskova, it would be her first title — emulating the feat of Brazilian great Gustavo Kuerten who also announced himself to the world by opening his account at Roland Garros in 1997.
“I’m really happy, I love to be here,” Ostapenko said after the crowd serenaded her with a chorus of “Happy Birthday”.
“It’s a great way to celebrate my birthday.
“I was always playing aggressive and trying to hit the ball when I have the chance.”