Few other people saw it coming but Jelena Ostapenko’s mother was not surprised that her daughter burst into the limelight to claim the French Open title in spectacular fashion on Saturday.
The unseeded Ostapenko, 20, downed Romanian third seed Simona Halep 4-6 6-4 6-3 in the final, hitting a staggering 54 winners and taking her tournament tally to 299.
Those numbers are counter-balanced by her unforced errors — 54 on Saturday and 271 in total — but they were not enough to stop the energy-charged Ostapenko from bulldozing her way to the title, firing faster forehands on average than men’s world number one Andy Murray.
Asked when she realised her daughter had so much power, Jelena Jakovleva said: “The day she was born. “She had the same energy when she was little, it was very difficult,” Jakovleva, who coaches her daughter, told a group of reporters at Roland Garros.
“She danced, swam, played tennis, she played football because she had so much energy. She’s fearless, she fights for every point.” Ostapenko was 10 when she first mentioned winning the French Open one day, Jakovleva said.
“She was on an excursion with her father at Roland Garros and she said maybe one time I will become a champion here.” Two years later, in 2009, she would win the Open 10-12 in the 12-year-old category, at the Tennis Club de Boulogne Billancourt, a stone’s throw from Roland Garros, joining Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin on the list of winners.
Jakovleva stayed home in Latvia during the first week of this year’s French Open but even after she arrived in Paris she could not watch her daughter’s matches from the stands. “I was nervous,” she said. “And Jelena has more focus if I’m not there.”
At the Australian Open, Ostapenko lost her nerve in the third round when serving for the match at 5-2 in the decider against Karolina Pliskova, eventually losing 4-6 6-0 10-8. “At the Australian Open she played very well but lost when 5-2 up. We worked on that and changed a few things and she now is psychologically stronger,” Jakovleva explained.
Ostapenko, who will rise to world number 12 from 47 following Saturday’s win, also worked a lot on her forehand, which was then her weakest shot.
“Her forehand was so-so. So she worked hard on it.” Halep realised just how hard her opponent had worked on that on Saturday. “She can take the racket out of your hands,” Halep’s coach Darren Cahill said.