Friday, 9 June 2017

Halep v unseeded Ostapenko in RG finale

The women's final at Roland Garros 2017 will feature 2014 runner-up Romanian third seed Simona Halep and unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko.
No surprise to see pre-tournament favourite Halep there but the Ostapenko story is a terrific one.

Halep had no easy ride on her way to perhaps a first major, having to wage a huge comeback in the Svitolina quarter final, including saving a match point.  However her running ability, capacity to deal with the second serve of Karolina Pliskova, and refusal to commit any unforced errors, enabled her to win a high quality semi final in three sets.

For the match, Pliskova attacked relentlessly, and at times it brought rewards - 
however seven aces over two hours does not reap enough free points for a serve which is normally far more generous in its donation of free points.  The four double faults didn't help either.

Halep hit a less than exciting 14 winners for the match but importantly only contributed the same amount of unforced errors, such was her focus.
Pliskova hit 45 winners but 55 unforced errors, three of those in the most vital of games - the eighth of the final set in which the ultimate break from Halep came.
The third seed served out the match decisively and will start a warm favourite to win the title, but her opponent continues to surprise.

Jelena Ostapenko turned 20 on the very day of her semi final and her hope, if maybe not her most realistic expectation, was to celebrate with victory over Timea Bacsinszky and a spot in the Roland Garros final.
The possibility of victory based on form this fortnight was actually very solid.  

Jelena began the tournament rather scratchily, taking the full three sets to dispose of Louisa Chirico.  This was the first singles match win of any description at Roland Garros for Ostapenko.  The taste was good as she swept aside Monica Puig and Lesia Tsurenko, both in straight sets, in the next rounds.

Then came the big wins against Samantha Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki, giving both players five games starts before displaying breathtaking tennis too much for the veterans.

Bacsinszky and Ostapenko opened proceedings with backhands blazing, winners aplenty, and the Swiss player earned the first break in a lengthy second game.  The young Latvian struck back immediately and from there it was excellent tennis for the rest of the set, two more breaks apiece, Ostapenko unable to serve it out at 6-5.

In one of the highest quality tie breaks of recent times, Ostepenko hit two forehand and three backhand winners, before sealing the set with a backhand volley winner.
Bacsinszky was immediately shocked by the brilliant cameo from Ostapenko but buckled down to the task at hand - set two.
Despite dropping her opening serve in the second set, Bacsinszky began to play the more consistent calm brand of tennis. 

While the more excitement may have been coming from the Latvian, with 14 winners and more net approaches, conservative Swiss strategy won the key points.  Timea's lower winner count but fewer mistakes accounted for her ability to break Jelena in the seventh and ninth games to secure a 6-4 advantage and level the match.

Serve was broken in the first three games of the decider, before Ostapenko held for 3-1.  Soon it became 3-3 but Bacsinszky had no more and the rampaging Ostapenko broke for 4-3, held for 5-3, and played a superb returning game to win the match.
From 15-15, the unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko hit one backhand and two forehand winners to clearly emphasise her arrival, not only in her debut Grand Slam singles final but in the top level of women's tennis.

Simona Halep will take the mantle of world number one should she win the final.  
Jelena Ostapenko will move into the top 15 if she wins - already she has jumped from 47 to 18 through her exploits over the past fortnight.

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